Turning Kids Into Mathletes

Who knew math could be so much fun?

Turning Kids Into Mathletes


When she was a student, Janice Edwards-Kennedy worried that she wouldn’t be able to become a social worker or a teacher because she wasn’t good at math. “I always struggled with math, both at the elementary and secondary levels,” she says.

Edwards-Kennedy did in fact achieve her dream of being a social worker and a teacher, but she wanted to do more. “I wanted to find a way to have students feel success in math while seeing that it can be both fun and exciting.” So she created MATHLETES, an educational event that achieves both those goals.

Math made fun

MATHLETES is based on a team approach. Kids from different grades and with different abilities join together in teams to tackle a day’s worth of activities. The activities are designed to help students learn basic geometric concepts and relationships, improve their problem-solving and spatial-ability skills, and enhance literacy and numeracy skills.

Edwards-Kennedy trains about 30 grade 7 or 8 students to act as coaches to support, score, and cheer on each team. As the students arrive at the gym, they are greeted by the loud, high-energy music of AC/DC. The coaches hoot as they welcome each student with a high five. Edwards-Kennedy says the gym looks like a rock concert. After teams are assembled, the games begin. Each activity starts with The Black Eyed Peas song, “Let’s Get It Started” and ends with a countdown, followed by a Mario Brothers song.

“The music sets the tone and really gets the students pumped up!” says Edwards-Kennedy. “The students rotate through the four activities with hands clapping and feet dancing. It is quite a sight to see up to 200 students wanting to do more math!”

At Plainville School in Northumberland County, teacher Carolyn Czulo asked kids during the break what they thought of MATHLETES so far. “The feedback from the majority was very positive. Most students in my classroom were anxious to get back to the gym. Who would have thought math all day would have brought such excitement.”

Mixing it up

MATHLETES creates teams of students who might not otherwise work together. “We tell them it’s not a test; they can help each other,” explains Edwards-Kennedy. “If they forget what 3 x 7 equals, they can ask a friend. Grade 4s help out Grade 6s,” she says. “It’s like the real world, where we all work together.”

Czulo says the team approach truly fosters a community of math learners. “They all contribute to building up scores for their groups while helping/encouraging others to do the same.”

There is friendly competition while the teams move through each activity. Scores are tabulated, with countdowns shown on a large screen and students cheer as their team’s name appears.

Teachers tell Edwards-Kennedy that the relationships students make that day continue on the playground, fostering connections between older and younger students.

Response positive

Edwards-Kennedy tells kids that math is a big part of their lives, whether they realize it or not. “We do math from the time we get up in the morning until we go to bed at night,” she explains. “When your alarm rings, you might think, ‘I can sleep five more minutes, if I take one less minute to pack my backpack and if I eat a pop tart for breakfast instead of cereal. I’ve saved two minutes.’ You’re doing math before your head’s off the pillow,” she exclaims.

Educators have only good things to say about MATHLETES, noting that it fosters leadership in older students while promoting cooperation, fun and learning for all involved.

“In all my years in education, I have never had as many positive comments from staff and students alike about an event at the school,” says Jean Marchand, principal of Dr. G.J. MacGillivray P.S. in Courtice.

Laurie Mudd, principal of Queen Elizabeth P.S. in Peterborough has seen a similar response. “I had nothing but rave reviews from the teachers and a million thank yous from the kids. It was worth every penny to walk into the gym at the end of the day and see such a total level of engagement and enthusiasm on every student’s face!”

After a day of MATHLETES, students leave the gym happy, with more confidence, and with a better attitude towards math, says Edwards-Kennedy. Mission accomplished.

For more information on MATHLETES, contact Janice Edwards-Kennedy at The Teaching Table, (905) 985-6700, janice@theteachingtable.com.

Author: Joanne Culley

Joanne Culley is a writer and documentary producer with two sons; joanne.culley@sympatico.ca or www.joanneculleymediaproductions.com.

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