Last session of Geometry for Parents at Hohokam (2/27/09)

Tuesday was the final session of Geometry for Parents at Tucson’s Hohokam Middle School gym. The evening began with a Mexican buffet followed by recognition of district administrators who were there to help celebrate the occasion: Hohokam’s assistant principal, principals of the four feeder elementary schools, director of Native American Studies, elementary mathematics curriculum specialist, Title I Coordinator, and Title I Mathematics Project Specialist. (The latter two coordinate the MAPPS project at Hohokam and feeders.) There were more, but you get the idea. Lots of support. Lots of enthusiasm. They asked me to say a few words. I said “Math and Parents makes a powerful combo.Parents, because evidence shows that parental involvement in activities like MAPPS – engagement with classroom content – ranks at the top of factors that correlate with student success. Math, because it opens doors: it’s the key to success in future careers and the key to access to higher education.” I ended by telling them I hoped to see them at future MAPPS activities.

The formalities over, we got down to mathematics: building models of the regular polyhedra. Several tables of parents were clustered around one end of the gym. Each of the 40 or so parents got copies of patterns for each regular polyhedron to take home for building models with their kids. Each table also had sets of Polydron and other commercial plastic manipulatives. Using these, the parents set about in earnest to make 3-d models of the Platonic solids. Lots of success. Lots of showing everybody else the models they made.

The culminating activity was to build giant polyhedral frameworks out of dowels and connectors. Parents moved to the other end of the gym where they found piles of dowels (4ft long, 3/8” diameter) and connectors made out of small bolts and pieces of plastic tubing (just the right size for a dowel to fit snugly inside). Parents arranged themselves in four or five groups and set about making “life-size” regular polyhedral with dowels as edges and connectors as vertices. I saw one group making a cube – frustrated because it wouldn’t stand up! They pretty quickly turned to making polyhedra with triangular faces. Tetrahedra. Octahedra. Pretty easy. Finally, two groups formed, each attempting to make an icosahedron. One started by replicating, on the floor, a large version of the paper pattern. The other group just started putting it together – in the air. Some folk stuck dowels in the plastic tubing and made triangular faces.Others held the connectors in the air with the dowels stuck in and helped to keep the contraption from falling apart. A lot of cooperation. A lot of discussion of what to do next. A lot of puzzling over why it wasn’t coming together. Finally, someone looked at a small model and concluded that each connector had to have exactly 5 dowels – and that their “life size” model-in-progress had a couple of connectors with 6. Some careful removing of the “spurious” dowels.Some more adjusting. Then, all of a sudden, there it was! A complete, person-sized icosahedron! “We did it!” High fives all around. The finished model was person-high, about 5’8” off the ground. Some folk crawled inside to celebrate and get the feel of being “inside” an icosahedron. Cool.

The evening ended with prizes and certificates. Smiling parents walked out with newfound math friends, talking about getting back together for the next MAPPS event. I can’t wait.

[I had a long talk with Leslie afterwards. She said the course was a lot of hard work. Some of the elementary teachers had a hard time with some of the material (I think we observed that) and that parent attendance fell off in the middle after this material occurred. A lot of the facilitators said they really learned a lot about teaching and mathematics by teaching the course. Evidence that you can think of mounting a Math for Parents course as staff development for the facilitators.

Facilitators initially wanted to have all the sessions at one place, not split. Something about turf issues. The Hohokam folk wanted to teach all the time at Hohokam. Leslie wanted them to rotate. In the end, for the facilitators it was a bonding experience between Hohokam folk and feeder folk. The two groups wound up having respect for each other.Nice connection between a middle school and its feeders. Leslie is going to write up a report for Bill. Maybe she’ll include more details about some of these issues.]

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