Members of the Young People’s Project hosted the third semi-annual “Math Bash” on Saturday, Dec. 11, in the Annex.
The Young People’s Project (YPP) is a student group that tutors children at Utica’s Donovan Middle School in math literacy every Monday through Thursday. The program was modeled on Bob Moses’ ’56 Algebra Project, and its goal is to help middle schoolers understand and enjoy mathematics. The YPP is part of a larger program called Advantage, which is an important component of Utica’s Safe Schools initiative.
The annual “Math Bash” is the culmination of a semester’s worth of work, and YPP members worked very hard to ensure that it went smoothly. The day began with members creating goodie bags for all of the children and putting together the tables, chairs, and hula-hoops that the students would use throughout the day. YPP site director Leide Cabral ’11 admits that it is a lot of work, but “everybody looks forward to the Math Bash. It comes at kind of a busy time, but there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the kids you have worked with all semester apply what they have learned.”
While only 11 children could attend this year’s “Math Bash,” the YPP took it in stride and separated the students into two teams instead of three. The first event was an “Icebreaker,” and consisted of doing a sort of reverse “Simon Says,” with the participants having to do the opposite of what they were told.
After a brief snack break, the real events began. For the first event, the children were separated into two teams and had to decide whether their number was a prime number or not, then put it into the correct hula-hoop at the end of an obstacle course. The next event was a sort of tag game as the participants had to put the number they had in its correct colored hula-hoop while at the same time avoiding various YPP members who were trying to tag them. After a pizza lunch, the youngsters took part in the final event.
This competition challenged them to apply everything they had learned over the semester. A judge called out a combination of numbers with each number corresponding to a color depending on whether it was a prime number, a repeating non-prime number, or a non-repeating, non-prime number. The team who identified the various colors first won.
All of the middle schoolers had a great time at the “Math Bash,” and walked away with bags loaded with candy, rulers and sunglasses. Ba Sho, a 9th grader at Proctor High School in Utica, took part in the “Math Bash” and did the YPP program last year. In between debates on the merits of Spanish vs. English league soccer, Ba Sho explained that he really enjoyed the YPP program and the “Math Bash” in particular. He thinks that the program helped prepare him for his high school math class and disciplined him to focus more time on schoolwork. He wants to join the military and then go to medical school to become a surgeon, which, he is confident, will mean “big money.”
The YPP members appeared to have just as much fun as the participants, and all of them were pleased with the progress that the young students had made over the course of the semester. Shellice Baker ’11 explained that the real goal of the YPP was not to teach children how to do math problems, “it is more teaching them to understand how math can work. There is usually only one correct answer in math, but the YPP does necessarily care about finding that one answer. Instead, our goal is to open up a new way of thinking for them.”
Leide Cabral ’11 echoed this sentiment. She said that one of the most difficult parts of coordinating the YPP was not keeping up with the participants’ energy level, it was dealing with their parents and teachers who thought the children had no hope of learning math. “We work very hard to change this kind of ‘can’t do it’ mentality, and we really try and show the kids that they can do anything if they work at it. They are all very intelligent; they just need the confidence to know that they are intelligent.” She concluded, “With a little more belief, people can get a lot more done.”
If one thing was clear from Saturday’s “Math Bash,” it was that Hamilton’s YPP chapter does not lack belief in either their children or in themselves.