This spring Ayesha Shah '13 led a group of Davidson Elementary first grade students on a field trip around campus to show them how math surrounds our everyday lives. The field trip capped a semester-long project where Shah and classmate Ali DeFrancesch created online "math maps" accessible on a computer or smartphone. As students walked around campus to spots specified on the map, they were presented examples of math in the world.
"It's called ‘geotagging'" explained Shah. "It involves marking locations on a digital map and adding information to those locations. The maps are published online so anyone can access them."
Shah and DeFrancesch used a map of the campus they procured online, and geotagged seven locations on it. They then created mathematical activities at each of the spots. Tagged locations include a giant outdoor analog clock where the students practiced telling time, and the sculpture garden where they identified three-dimensional shapes. In the student café children learned how math is involved in making purchases and, on the football field, Davidson football players talked about measuring yard lines.
Over the semester, Shah and DeFrancesch visited the class to explain their project. They also collaborated with teacher Maggie Hershey-Mason to prep the youngsters for the activities and make sure the math map activities were grade-level appropriate.
The project was an outreach component in "Finite Math," a course taught by Associate Professor Tim Chartier. "Finite" is the only course in the discipline that Shah and many other Davidson students will take at Davidson. The class covers topics like NCAA basketball bracketology, and how computers make scalable fonts.
Shah commented, "It's easy for teachers to become disheartened in an entry level course like Finite Math because many students are only taking it to fulfill a requirement. But Chartier taught it as an opportunity to show how math is a part of everyday lives. Then we went out and taught it to younger students."
"When students of any age find they can use their math skills to help solve real problems, in the world and in their community, it adds a whole other level to their learning," said Chartier. "They become more engaged."
Each semester Chartier incorporates community-based learning into at least one of his courses. Two student groups in Shah's class worked on math maps with Davidson Elementary School students, four groups worked with students at the Community School of Davidson, and four worked with Davidson Day school students. Chartier's students have also used math skills to complete projects for non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Loaves and Fishes food pantry.
"I hadn't been around six-year-olds in a very long time," said Shah. "As a college student it's easy to get surrounded solely by other college students and forget that other people, like families with older people and younger people, are out there. This class helped me interact with the community and get me out of school mode in a way that I didn't expect. For something I just took as a core requirement I got a whole lot more out of it."
After graduating this coming May, Shah hopes to create a career in teaching.
Shah and DeFrancesch's map, along with other math maps from Chartier's Finite Math course can be accessed here.