Math Mondays are a kid-friendly mix of technology and old-fashioned learning by doing, tempered with a sense of humor.
The one I attended started with a "GoNoodle Brain Break." This version (there are lots of others) was a kind of hyped-up, grade-school Jazzercise video starring an adorable catlike cartoon character. It drew lots of laughter and got the after-school crowd up and moving and energized.
Then, veteran teacher Paula Naugle stepped up to direct that energy.
Naugle, a 40-year-veteran teacher, specializes in incorporating technology in education. The regional director of the Louisiana Association of Computer Using Educators and a Discovery Network star educator, she has more than 15,000 Twitter followers for her professional learning network @plnaugle.
Naugle called the addition of technology the gamification of learning, something that's exciting and natural to the kids.
"Kids are going home and looking at TV or playing on computers 99 percent of the time, and you have teachers who aren't using technology. That creates a disconnect between their personal lives and school," said Tinashe Blanchet, found of Learning Laboratory New Orleans, which puts on Math Mondays.
"Are we playing Kahoot today?" one child asked.
"Yes!" another exclaimed.
Naugle called up the knowledge-based game on her iPad and projected it onto the Smart Board in the front of the room.
Kids, aided by volunteers from Tulane, divide into teams and entered their names for scoring, as in a video game.
Yet the heart of the instruction came without use of technology. It stood out from a standard math class because the main tools weren't pencil and paper — although the kids had those things, too. The most important resource was … Oreo cookies.
"There's a worksheet to fill out. Oh No! The dreaded worksheet! but this is a fun one," Naugle told the class.
The volunteers helped the kids one-on-one with the worksheet, where they were to estimate answers to:
• How many cookies are in a pack of Oreos?
• How many can you stack? (No straightening allowed during the process.)
• What will be the class average for stacking Oreos?
• How long will it take to lick the icing off of both halves of a cookie — tongue only, no teeth.
• How far will an Oreo roll down a ramp?
Sound like fun? It was, and the kids stayed on task for over an hour with only a couple of gentle reminders.
("We're not having problems with the inside voice again are we? Just checking." Blanchet told one child.)
What did they learn from the activities?
"As a high school math teacher, I found those were areas of great trouble. (Students) had a hard time doing estimation and needed practice in mental math," Blanchet said. "Many become so reliant on calculators. There's nothing wrong with using a calculator, but you need to have and idea of a reasonable answer.
"And measurement. Probably of all the things we do in math, we do this every single day. Cooking, baking, building things, trying to figure out if you have a temperature — I believe that because of the focus on testing you don't get that. It's hands-on, and you actually have to do it — not by reading a text," she said.
At 17 cookies stacked and still counting, one boy got down from his chair to look at his stack.
"He's thinking about it, counterbalancing and all that," Naugle said.
The winning tower totaled 28 Oreos.
Tulane volunteers helped the kids find the averages of the class towers.
"First you write down all the numbers," one explained.
The volunteers make sure they're getting the math done, Blanchet said.
Takes a licking, keeps on ticking
Time and technicalities were the obstacles in the Oreo-cream-licking contest.
There was a standout winner in 31 seconds.
"Keep licking," Naugle advised the others.
Another contestant finished at 57 seconds.
With the kids seated on the floor, Naugle bent down to look them in the eyes as they licked, some feverishly.
"No scraping with teeth allowed," she reminded them.
The final finisher, a very methodical boy, finished in 2 minutes 30 seconds.
On a roll
Oreos were rolled down a ramp, the path under it delineated by yardsticks so the kids could measure how far they traveled. And it takes a lot longer than you might think for an Oreo to dissolve in water — more than 3 minutes.
The students had practiced estimation; keeping track of time; measurement; averaging, which includes addition and division; and motor skills, with a little physics thrown in.
And for the most part, they didn't even realize they were doing math, Naugle said.
For more information on Learning Laboratory, go to learnlabnola.org.