The Appalachian

Math walk colloquia present the benefits of creative learning

Alex Hubbell

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For most students, the world of academia lends an unbounded amount of creative possibilities yet it seems math is in an exception.

Sharareh Nikbakht, a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, intends to change that for K-12 students with the concept of the Math Walk. Nikbakht spoke about this concept during “ASU Math Walk: Promoting STEM using creative activities for creative student learning” Friday at 3 p.m. in Walker Hall.

The event, hosted by Travis Weiland, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, focused on a concept called a Math Walk, which takes learning outside the classroom.

A Math Walk is not an original concept, but Nikbakht wants to bring it to App’s campus for students across the state. The Math Walk has students following a handbook compiled by Nikbakht of 14 sites mapped out on App’s campus and 16 activities to complete as students explore the campus.

The activities range from calculating the angle of the stairs up to the SRC to identifying shapes in Sanford Mall, with varying difficulties according to grade level. The handbook used during the walk also allows for a brief period of rest to think about the activities as students eat lunch at Jimmy Smith Park. This gives a teacher the opportunity to take students on a day trip to either explore the campus and learn along the way or have a select number of questions to answer.  

The handbook has additional information to add to the excitement of learning and to remind the students of the tactile nature of mathematical concepts like the origins of structures on campus, taught within the classroom, Nikbakht said.

The handbook is formatted as a PDF file so that it can be a communal document that others can add on to, Nikbakht said.

Nikbakht grew up with a passion for science, and she credits part of it to the 60’s era of innovation she was raised in.

“Everybody wanted to be an astronaut and so did I, even with my motion sickness,” Nikbakht said. “The love of math really hit me when I started my first job working in different laboratories and doing all the calculations.”

Nikbakht said she empathizes with students who struggle with math because she thinks they lack the ability to make math real-world applicable.

Nikbakht is running a test trial for Math Walk with K-12 students from Wilkes County on Nov. 9. She hopes to bring more to students than answering equations for an assignment. She said she hopes to promote problem-solving, improve team building skills and ultimately stimulate interest in math.

Nikbakht concluded the event and said that developing these activities for students has impacted even her own thinking of the world around her. She has climbed structures, snuck through walls and even found a bathroom trash can mathematically appealing.

“You look at everything differently when you develop these activities,” Nikbakht said.

Holly Peters Hirst, a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, wanted to remind the graduate students that a Math Walk could benefit college students as well.

“Taking them outside and having them do something like this makes a nice activity, and it’s not that hard. This is a way to make it real,” Hirst said.

Travis Weiland, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, remarked at the end of the event the potential for research opportunities for math educators who specialize in using creativity to teach STEM. One of the ways Weiland believes these researchers could approach this is to ask K-12 students to come up with their own questions in the classroom.

“There’s a lot of rigor that goes into that because you end up doing, almost, more math to create the problem than do the problem,” Weiland said. “You could analyze the types of problems the students come up with.”

Nikbakht said she feels this concept is only in its early stages and wants all input possible for potential improvements. If you would like to hear more information on the concept or give input please email Nikbakht at [email protected].

Story by Alexander Hubbel, A&E Reporter

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Math walk colloquia present the benefits of creative learning