L AFAYETTE — A group of unusually young students scattered across the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus Wednesday for a scavenger hunt of sorts in the midst of finals week.
From Foster Hall to Edith Garland Dupre Library to Griffin Hall and back, more than 100 high-performing sixth-grade students wrestled with algebra, geometry, ratios and differential equation problems well above their grade level.
It was all part of UL-Lafayette’s Louisiana Mathematics Masters in the Middle program “Math Adventure” scavenger hunt.
Not only was this an opportunity for the youngsters to sharpen their math skills — competing to solve the most problems over the day — but it also allowed them to connect with friends they hadn’t seen since the math camp they attended over the summer.
“They were so excited to see each other this morning,” said Katie Boudreaux, a math teacher at Belle Place Middle School in New Iberia. “A lot of them don’t go to the same schools, so it was really neat for them to catch up.”
The program reached out to lower-performing schools from Lafayette, Vermilion and Iberia parishes to gather the best and brightest students who weren’t being sufficiently challenged.
“They’re getting the chance to work cooperatively on advancing their math skills,” said Natalie Davis, a teacher at Milton. “What they’re expected to do here is far above what they’re expected to do at their grade level. It gives them some enrichment and it gives them a chance to have fun doing math.”
Unlike the summer camp, which split the students by parish, Wednesday’s on-campus adventure had all three camps converge.
Boudreaux, Davis and 11 other Masters in the Middle teachers led the groups, guided across campus by UL-Lafayette education students.
“I like to see when kids understand things,” said early childhood education senior Nicole Billeaud, who was one of the student volunteers. “I came here to see how sixth-graders learn and work math.”
Peter Sheppard, head of the UL-Lafayette College of Education’s curriculum and instruction department, said he hopes the future educators shadowing the Masters in the Middle teachers see that math-themed scavenger hunts like these are something they can incorporate in their own lesson plans.
“The biggest thing I want them to see is how the mass curriculum could be brought alive,” Sheppard said. “It doesn’t have to be worksheets every day; there are real-world solutions and cases that can be done. We want to get kids excited about it.”
Both the summer camp and Wednesday’s on-campus scavenger hunt were planned by teachers enrolled in the Masters in the Middle program. The program was funded through a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The NSF funds were used to provide professional development to 13 middle school math teachers with master’s degrees from Lafayette, Iberia and Vermilion parishes, as well as to foster middle school students’ interest in the math and sciences.
“It gives them a positive outlook,” Davis said. “These kids can’t wait to do math; they’re running to the next spot to do math. It’s an opportunity that we don’t see in the classroom very often.”