This week’s climate superhero is - Lauren Siegel.
Ms. Siegel co-founded MathHappens, a privately operated foundation dedicated to expanding opportunities to learn math outside of school. MathHappens partners with museums, libraries, cultural centers and other education and public entities across the United States to bring mathematical literacy to young people.
Ms. Siegel holds degrees from University of Chicago and University of Texas at Austin. After serving as Head of Math at Ace Academy for several years, she co-founded MathHappens, where she has been inspiring budding math modelers and empowering individuals with a deeper appreciation of mathematics through engaging and interactive experiences.
As an educator, Ms. Siegel often scouted for hands-on learning opportunities within her community that were available to all, and found few. She started to worry upon realizing that kids were losing contextual connections to math - concepts like reading maps and analog clocks, counting change, and even cooking - things that could help students find direct relevance to math in their daily lives. She noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to talk about ways that math is useful, and to motivate learning. She then cofounded MathHappens with her husband, with a mission to “Promote math literacy by creating and distributing math models and supporting development of mathematical learning experiences outside of the classroom in our public places and spaces.”
Importance of Math Modeling & how its study has evolved over time
Ms. Siegel believes that in making a physical object that embodies a mathematical relationship or concept, a student has a different kind of learning experience. Time spent customizing a math model whether coloring, choosing materials or other variations adds for the opportunity to think about the math without the pressure of specific problem solving. She gives the example, of a young math modeler setting out to make a spiral of Theodorus. When they start with a strip of paper, they get to choose the kind of paper, the width of the strip and the way to start the folds. Following the folding pattern will create a unique spiral of Theodorus fan for each maker that embodies the physical building of square roots each upon the previous.
Some of her favorite resources for ideas and inspiration were published in the late 1800s - in an era when mathematical mechanisms and machinery were changing the way people lived. At that time, filing a patent required submission of scale models. Museums all over the world from the US to Europe have collections of math models. In the United States, there are large repositories of math models at the Smithsonian and at universities (like Cornell University’s Reuleaux collection). Previously, models used to be a big part of math education. Ms. Siegel laments that unfortunately, today they are a missing part of math education.
MathHappens’ current focus
MathHappens is most focused on sharing their math models, ideas and resources to have a lasting impact on learning communities by partnering with libraries, clubs, museums and educators nationwide. They would like to have more math rooms, more resources in libraries, more maker spaces making math models, more math festivals and math field trips. These could all happen within schools or outside of them - they both have immense value on students.
Nature, Math and Conservation
Ms Siegel is confident that - “understanding nature is the foundation of math and science.” And here’s why - whether it is data collection, or pattern identification, or modeling of growth and decay, making predictions or experimental design, every one of them goes hand in hand with the development of mathematical techniques. She finds that the best practices for supporting human life - such as efficient food production, or disease mitigation - are the same as those that can inform ways of environmental conservation and protection. For example, one of her activities draws parallels between elementary school level mathematics, and garden food production.
Cultivating An Interest In Math Modeling
Her advice to young people and teachers who would like to engage students in math modeling - "start a club or math festival." Other options include creating opportunities for making and using models by planning a math field trip, or provisioning a library with math activities. Heading into a maker space to make a math model is another. great way to combine the maker ed fundamentals of persistence, creativity, collaboration and inspiration with mathematics learning.
Her advice for youth stewards -
At this critical time of AI revolution, it is even more vital for students to be voracious learners. “Access all the ways of learning available to you, read widely, be open to new ideas and experiences and pursue deep knowledge where you find your interest and imagination leads you.
There is a great need for those who love math to share their knowledge, curiosity and enthusiasm. At MathHappens we hope that we are doing that and we aspire to help others to do the same in their communities. ”
Courtesy: Lauren Siegel