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National Math Festival Celebrates Math, Culture and Community

MIND was honored to take part in the 2019 National Math Festival on May 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. This free, public event brings together mathematicians, educators, organizations and families to inspire and challenge all ages to see math in new and unexpected ways. The National Math festival takes place every two years and involves the collaboration of many organizations and individuals.

What Goes into a Math Festival?

Organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI), Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), and National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), the math festival is a large project with a lot of moving parts! Other major contributors include Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival, Natural Math and Math On-A-Stick, The Bridges Organization, and The Young People’s Project (YPP) in addition to MIND Research Institute.

This year’s National Math Festival started with a special preview day on May 3rd, where schools were invited to bring their PreK-8 students. Groups of up to 150 students rotated between each major activity presenter and their activities.

Mathematicians were assigned to each group to explore and play alongside students, getting to know students and sharing the human side of mathematics.

MIND Research Institute shared our MathMINDs Games: South of the Sahara, a suite of storybook board games that combine math, literacy and history in a highly connected experience. Through each story, you learn and play games as you explore real events from the game's country of origin.

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Students playing Gulugufe, a game from Mozambique.

Families Connect with Math

On May 4, the festival was open to the public and families of all sizes and from near and far explored the exhibits. The festival provided a variety of activities for families with kids of all ages and abilities to experience math in different ways.

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Family reading the Gulugufe storybook to learn to play.

At the MIND area, families were invited to pull up a chair, open a storybook and read together.

Not all families are accustomed to doing math together; but many families read together. Starting with the story allows families who may have negative connotations with math a way to engage without fear. Through the story, families learned how to play the game. In five to ten minutes, they were making decisions, thinking logically and thinking multiple steps ahead.

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Family plays Gulugufe, which means “butterfly.”

Explore Math Though Games

Why are games so engaging at events like this?

Games offer a unique opportunity to play and explore mathematical concepts. They help students develop creative problem solving skills.

In Achi, for example, players must take turns placing and then sliding their pieces on the board so that three of them add to 15. Students are solving missing addend problems with up to three addends, but there’s no worksheet or written word problems. Students understand and manipulate the problem using the game pieces, and the board and the other players provide informative feedback!


Cultural Connections

In addition to the cultural connections to various places in Africa through the storybooks, we partnered with other local organizations to build an even more connected experience. The International Child Art Foundation (ICAF) shared art from children in Ghana and invited students to engage in an art activity: what does your favorite math concept look like?

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Patterning activity from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art shared replicas of the gold weights, which inspired the Achi story! They also shared patterns of textiles from Ghana, allowing students to explore and build beautiful patterns.

It was so powerful and heartwarming to see entire families engaged together connecting math to the world around us. I am so grateful to ICAF and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art for helping to make the human and cultural connections in South of the Sahara even stronger. We are very grateful to the National Math Festival for providing a venue that shows math is from everywhere, in everything and for everyone.

-Brandon Smith, MIND Research Institute

Thank you to everyone who helped create and enjoyed the festival; it takes many people and organizations to build these connected experiences.

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Interested in learning more about MathMINDs Games?

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Calli Wright

About the Author

Calli Wright is the Education Engagement Manager at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing board games and editing their rules, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWrights.

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