If you've walked around campus lately, you've likely noticed the curious plaques mounted to the outside walls of the Middle School buildings. Step a little closer and you’ll find yourself delightfully challenged by a series of math-related questions.
Foote’s Math Walk was installed last spring, helmed by Math Department Co-Chairs John Hay (Middle School) and Heather Zetterberg (Lower School). Earlier in the year, the Lower School put together a Story Walk to great success. Featuring storyboards that take the reader from one spot to the next, the Story Walk was designed to encourage literary engagement for everyone — not just students — with the campus and with each other. John and Heather hoped they could inspire a similar concept in the Middle School, just with a mathematical bent.
“When you looked around at the campus at the time, there was very little evidence of what happens in the classroom with regard to math,” John remembered. “[Heather and I] are always trying to find ways to make math more creative and relevant. This was a nice way to get people outside and still make classroom connections.”
Unlike the Story Walk, the Math Walk features panels that are unrelated — in other words, you can start at any spot you want. You don’t have to consult one panel in order to find a solution to another panel, and you can also find different types of challenges on each panel. Half of the panels feature problems with an actual answer, like, “How many triangles are in this picture?” Others are open-ended, designed to inspire conversation about possible solutions. For example, “Who do you think is the best soccer player in the world and why?” To answer this question, students can draw from statistical data, uniform numbers or any other criteria they choose to make their point and engage in a healthy debate — ideally learning something new from their peers at the same time.
John explained, “We do a lot of open-ended questions in math. Students can share their opinions without the fear of being right or wrong. We wanted to bring math to life and spark some really interesting conversations.”
Open-ended questions also give onlookers of any age the ability to join in the fun. Third-graders might not grasp algebra yet, but they can certainly explain who their favorite soccer player is and why.
The initiative began as a team project, with Heather designing the layout, John devising the questions and the maintenance team bringing it to life. Going forward, John hopes to add students to the team.
“I want to give kids the opportunity to write their own problems, and have more ownership. They obviously have an idea of what’s engaging to them and their peers,” John acknowledged.
He’s already noticed the energy the Math Walk has brought to morning drop-off, as students and parents wait outside for classrooms to open, and during recess or other times the students are meandering outside.
Going forward, John and Heather hope that this will become a cross-curricular space, allowing students to make connections between different classes and disciplines.
About working with other faculty members, John said, “It is a good way for us to collaborate and intertwine the work that we’re doing and make it relevant to many subject areas.”