News & Media

Eureka! Pennsylvania’s first traveling math lab to serve K-6 students starting in September

07/29/2018 Lancaster Online By Alex Geli

It’s not often parents witness their children racking their brains on a mathematics problem over the summer — especially in Cynthia Brooks’ case.

“It’s pretty hard to keep them engaged,” the Manheim Township mother said of her two kids, Teagan and Charlie. “I think 10 minutes is kind of the max.”

But on Thursday, she watched in awe as her 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son kept themselves occupied by piecing together squares, trapezoids and triangles to form different shapes.

“I bet (they) could stay on there for more than 10 minutes if they had to,” Brooks said as her children finished their puzzles with help from some friends.

The activity was part of a preview held Thursday night at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 for a new nonprofit outreach program dedicated to helping elementary-aged kids improve their math skills through interactive, hands-on exhibits.

Archie’s Math, an idea brought to life by Jim Bunting, a retired advertising executive who founded the Lancaster Science Factory in 2008, is a traveling math lab offering 20 exhibits that challenge kids on topics such as binary numbers and the Pythagorean Theorem.

Starting in September, the math lab — named after Archimedes, the mathematician who discovered the value of pi — will serve kids in kindergarten through grade six in the Lancaster, Lebanon, York and Harrisburg regions.

It will be the first math lab in Pennsylvania, Bunting said.

Schools and youth agencies can rent the exhibits for $250 to $500, depending on how many are needed and for how much time; however, sponsorships may be available through the Education Improvement Tax Credit program.

Each exhibit delivers one or more Pennsylvania math standards, Bunting said.

Use of manipulatives

While chemistry, physics and technology labs are common in schools, Bunting said, “we don’t have math labs. We go right to the textbook for drill and kill.”

“Drill and kill,” he said, refers to the way many students learn math: Study a textbook and complete problems off a worksheet. This often “kills” the desire to learn math, he said.

After speaking with educational experts such as Ed Gooch, teaching and learning consultant for STEM at IU13, he discovered the key to making math more appealing: using manipulatives, or objects kids can touch and manipulate with their hands.

“It really gives kids a chance to relate real-world simulations to mathematic symbolism,” Gooch said, adding that using manipulatives contributes to the idea of “math talk,” or collaborative problem-solving.

For Erminia Rigatti, an incoming sixth-grader at the New School of Lancaster, that hands-on approach is more fun and engaging.

“I like this a lot more because you can actually experience it,” Erminia said as she put together a dome full of magnetic, hexagonal pieces at the geometric shapes exhibit during Thursday's open house. “It sticks in my brain more.”

‘Outstanding opportunity’

The project has garnered support from several agencies and schools, such as the IU13, the Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster, School District of Lancaster and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

In a letter, SDL Superintendent Damaris Rau called Archie’s Math “an outstanding opportunity not only for our community, but also the broader region as we continue to work to squash the thought many students and adults have that they are not good at math.”

Thaddeus Stevens President William Griscom wrote: “I believe strongly that Archie’s … will have a significant impact on children in the region and the School District of Lancaster in particular, in terms of their attitudes toward math and overall competency in the discipline.”

Capital campaign

Archie’s Math will employ an executive director and education coordinator, Bunting said, adding that he hopes to recruit 10 active volunteers to help during events.

A capital campaign to raise $250,000 for the project is ongoing, Bunting said. The funds will help cover the costs for the design and construction of exhibits, a van purchase and other obligations. Bunting said he hopes to reach the fundraising goal by April 2019.

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