The students at Royle Elementary School played with numbers this week, quite literally. The Museum of Mathematics visited the school from New York City from March 2 to March 4, bringing six different exhibits that presented hands on opportunities for children to enjoy math outside of the classroom. Students from every class, from kindergarten through grade five, were able to visit and participate. Nick Raug, or simply Dr. Nick to the students, came from the museum to facilitate and teach the kids about the way each exhibit works.
The exhibits included a number line with symbols hanging from them denoting concepts from square numbers to the Fibonacci numbers, a funny face game where a photo of a student’s face is altered in real time as they change elements of equations, and a magnetic tiling wall where students could fit together shapes and even magnetic monkeys in order to understand tessellation and geometry. Another exhibit featured a function organ grinder, where students could insert paper with a number on one end, adjust dials that contained mathetic events that would happen to their number, turn a hand crank, and the grinder would print out the resulting number on the other end. “We put out a goal number, and encourage them to try and find ways to reach that number” said Raug. There was an exhibit called the “Ring of Fire” which featured a large hoop with beams crossing its inside. Students could put different objects through the beams, or even themselves, and see what a cross section of that object would look like.
One of the most popular exhibits was a rollercoaster with an adjustable track. Students were challenged to form the shape of the track that would take a car from one end to the other the in the fastest time using only the power of gravity. “Isaac Newton worked on this very problem”, said Raug, and it was part of Newton’s contribution to the development of calculus, and yet elementary school students engaged with it as well, smiling as they tried to get the lowest time in the class. Other classes left notes with the fastest time they had achieved, so others might try and improve it.
The students went beyond just playing, as they had questions for Raug and their teachers as their time at each exhibit went on. Caroline, a first grade student, said, “I liked the number line. I really want to try the tiles. We don’t get to do stuff like this all the time”. Raug said that students from kindergarten all the way up to college level math students have visited the museum, and the exhibits strive to make the subjects accessible for all ages, in addition to being fun. Royle principal John Grasso said, “It lets the students know that math is everywhere. It’s not just pencil and paper on your desk in front of you.”
Grasso said this is part of an effort to make math more exciting and accessible for students at all grade levels. “You’ll remember this. You might not always remember that lesson you learned just because you have to take a test at the end of the week. But this is memorable”.
The Museum of Mathematics is located on East 26th street in Manhattan, and is open seven days a week, 364 days a year. They serve a number of schools in the greater New York area. More information about the museum and visiting can be found be found at www.momath.org.