There was a lot of talk about patterns, XY and Z’s and the use of cubes this week at Marengo Elementary School.
Students smiled proudly when they successfully discovered solutions to tasks in front of them, working through a series of algebra problems during the California Math Festival on campus.
Jeannie Toshima, a South Pasadena resident and retired math teacher who worked for the Long Beach Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, helped bring the program to the school.
About a dozen different activity stations were set up inside the school’s auditorium, providing youngsters of all ages an opportunity to work on a series of algebra problems.
At one station, students gathered in pairs to build algebraic function patterns out of cubes, while at another they were asked to solve simultaneous equations with two unknowns using beans.
On the surface, Algebra is the study of mathematical symbols and the rules for manipulating those symbols.
“It’s looking for unknowns,” explained Toshima. “It’s a way to describe the mathematics that you’re doing. It’s all about finding patterns. They’re really important in mathematics because when you look at them you start to see how numbers grow.”
If it seems a bit complex, don’t tell that to the third and fourth grade students during one session, seemingly responding well to the designated projects on the row of tables. Some made it look easy, throwing their hands in air, celebrating their achievement of solving the X’s and Y’s and all the rest.
The festival allowed students to “see algebra more visually” in how to solve a problem, Toshima explained. “Kids learn all different kinds of ways to solve problems, and this is one way to help different kinds of learners. They learn by building things.”
It’s all about working through challenging hands-on problem solving. “We hope through this process the kids see that algebra really isn’t that difficult,” Toshima said, using an example. “We hope they’ll see that a pattern from, let’s say, 3,5,7,9 is two. I enjoy hearing from the kids, ‘Oh, now I get it.’ There’s a pattern plus two.”
What Toshima, a 27-year resident of South Pasadena, likes most about the math festival is watching the teachers working with the students and the kids working with the math.
Each station offered assignments easy for newcomers to Algebra and difficult enough to challenge the school’s top students.
“Tasks are for all abilities, making it fun,” said Toshima. “I enjoy watching the students go from one station to the another solving many problems.”