There’s a big push in education to boost students’ math skills. One group hopes to do that by taking elementary and middle school kids on a series of math- and science-focused walks through the Dallas Arts District. It's called walkSTEM. Beginning in March, these free walks will take place monthly and led by area teachers.
Glen Whitney, founder and director of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York, has designed walks like these around country. He was in Dallas recently and stopped by KERA to talk with education reporter Stella Chavez.
Interview Highlights: Glen Whitney...
…On why he’s designed these walks around the country:
“People see mathematics as something that is abstract…that only happens during math class and isn’t connected to the rest of the world. And so, what we and our partners in doing walkSTEM want to accomplish is to show how mathematics actually threads through all the things we see around us in everyday life.”
…On how math is behind the plant life in the Dallas Arts District:
“These organisms [ornamental grasses] evolved to maximum their chances of reproducing and passing on their genes and so you can see that in something as simple as the arrangement of the seed pods around the central stalk of the grass. It wants to be able to distribute its seeds in as many different directions as possible and you see how that’s evolved to a certain geometric arrangement of the seeds around the stalk.”
…On what inspired him to do these walks:
“I think at the root, we have a cultural problem with mathematics in this country because it’s seen as disconnected. It’s dismissed as unimportant, irrelevant, scary, too difficult to bother with. And that’s setting us back. We don’t have enough people who get excited about the field, who go into it and help us develop the new ideas and techniques we’re going to need to push our technology forward.”
…On the problem with how math is taught:
“Math teachers do a great job. They have a tall hurdle to get over…we don’t have the same support at home that we do with reading. We get the message all the time: read to your children, talk to them, describe the world they see around you. We need similar messages with mathematics.”
…On the end goal for walkSTEM:
“For people to – even if they don’t feel like they’re a math person, even if they’re not going to be a mathematician – to able to understand how mathematics is connected to the world around us and to get a chance to appreciate the beauty and the achievement of mathematics.”