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Playing With Numbers: Exhibit strives to make math accessible

Posted on 02 October 2008

Trying out the CMEE exhibit

If you ask friends today which subject they most feared and hated in school, a disproportionate number of them will likely reply “math.” Memories of mean teachers and baffling equations can still make many a former kid blanche.

So why are there so many math phobic adults among us?

“The way teachers were teaching us, it was either right or wrong,” recalls Eva Petersen, educational outreach coordinator for the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE). “There was no gray area in math. I never understood why I was learning it.”

Ultimately, says Petersen, real world connections matter which is why CMEE’s new exhibit, which opens this weekend, is all about making math accessible. “Fun 2, 3, 4: all about a number of things” is an exhibit for ages 5 to 12 with 16 hands-on stations designed to encourage visitors to interact with number based concepts and lessen math anxiety. It comes to CMEE on loan from Sciencenter in Ithaca, N.Y.

“This exhibit ties in with how we do math in everyday life,” explains Petersen. “It shows math elements with creative perspectives and has a wider appeal.”

And that’s very important. Though teaching methods have changed drastically in the last quarter century, there is still apparently a disconnect when it comes to math. According to CME’s research, close to 30 percent of eighth graders on the East End are not fully meeting New York State math standards.

Something, it seems, happens between early grades when kids score high in math and adolescence when many seem to lose confidence in the subject.

“From my perspective, a museum should first and foremost serve community needs,” notes CMEE’s executive director Stephen Long. “In researching some of the math scores on the East End — as well as the county, state and country — it seems to be trend. Students are meeting standards in third grade, but by eighth grade, it drops off.”

CMEE hopes that by bringing this exhibit to the East End, it will reinforce in younger children the notion that math is exciting and practical so it will be less intimidating when they become adolescents.

 “It helps teachers to put math into every day concepts for their students,” notes Long. “Historically, math has been taken out of every day world and taught in  a vacuum. This is about estimating and thinking exponentially.”

The museum has already given local teachers a preview of the exhibit so they can use it in conjunction with what they are doing in the classroom.

“They can put what they’re teaching into better context,” notes Petersen.

In addition, Long explains that CMEE is contacting East End schools to find out where math standards are lagging. That way, when school groups visit, programming can be tailored to focus on math areas a particular class is struggling with as a whole.

The exhibit itself is very hands on and designed to get kids thinking. There is the pizza game in which a whole is divided into parts, a wall sized graph where visitors will place stickers representing their height and age (also a good way for the museum to gauge their target audience) and an estimating game in which two players compete by trying to hold a button down for exactly 15 seconds.

Another exhibit gets kids to think about math in a way that really impacts them personally — in the piggy bank.

In “Double Your Allowance,” kids are given the choice of receiving either $1 a week for 12 weeks, or 1¢ the first week and double that amount each consecutive week. So who comes out ahead in the end? The answer can be found at CMEE.

There are also math activities to put current events into perspective for adults. With questions looming over the fate of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and average Americans watching their own portfolios plummet, one exhibit that parents will likely find intriguing (if not enjoyable) is the “how many is a million” machine.

By turning a handle, visitors move a series of interconnected gears in a case that count up to a million. When the magic number is reached, the last gear breaks a small glass at the end of the case.

It’s expected that very few glasses will be broken over the run of the exhibit.

“It takes a really long time to get to a million,” notes Petersen.

The exhibit runs through December 31, 2008 and opens this Saturday, October 4 with a member’s preview from 10 to noon. It opens to the general public at 1 p.m. CMEE is located at 376 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike. For more information, call 537-8250. 

 Above: CMEE’s executive director Stephen Long and educational outreach coordinator Eva Petersen try out the exhibit

 

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One Response to “Playing With Numbers: Exhibit strives to make math accessible”

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