How Grade 8s Unlocked their Inner Mathematicians

Jul 22, 2021
Math is everywhere.

We use it playing games, when we shop and when we cook.
We see it on our clocks, in our clothing and technology.
It’s in our geography, nature and the universe beyond us.

And it’s deeply rooted in how we learn and live – in business, art, medicine, astronomy, history, physics, engineering, ecology, geology, economics. The list goes on.

We experience math in our everyday lives, and we are all capable of unlocking our inner mathematicians.

That’s exactly what secondary students Sophie and Jerusha believe, leaders of the ‘Unlocking Your Inner Mathematician’ learning session offered at the DSBN.

Working with DSBN staff, Sophie (Grade 11, Grimsby Secondary School) and Jerusha (Grade 10, Eastdale Secondary School) helped develop a week-long course that Grade 8 students going into Grade 9 took over the summer. With a combination of exploring the larger world of math, talking about what to expect in secondary school, and valuable, positive mindset messaging about the subject, students were encouraged to take a chance on math and find out why it can be enjoyable.

“A major idea behind this course was to get students to see that math really is everywhere,” said Sophie. “Math doesn’t have to be in a textbook or only done on worksheets, or mean you’re tethered to a desk all day. We wanted to show that math is more and to give everyone in this course the confidence that they can do it.”

Interest in the course poured in, with nearly 300 Grade 8 students going into Grade 9 registering within a few weeks. Every DSBN secondary school had future Grade 9 students sign-up.

“We were inspired by Stanford University’s Jo Boaler for this course, and we wholeheartedly believe that anyone can reach the highest levels of mathematics achievement with hard work,” said Elizabeth Pattison, Mathematics Consultant for Secondary, 9-12. “We want students to enter high school in September with a positive mindset, and hopefully an added interest in discovering the beauty of math.”

And who can get a student excited about something like this more than another student? That’s why every class was taught by two secondary students, designated as student teachers, with one math teacher in the class to help when needed.

“Making math accessible to everyone was a foundation of the course. Math can be intimidating, and so can high school. It’s cool to get to work with Grade 8 students because at the end of every day we talk about high school in general, the math they’ll learn in different grades, and how their teachers are there to help,” said Sophie, who is also a participating student teacher. "Making them feel capable is a big part of this. I like to call them mathematicians because I think they can be mathematicians if they want to.”

Highlighting the connections between math and other disciplines was one key method in showing how diverse math can be, and helped make it more approachable and less intimidating. Students learned about math and art through the Golden Ratio, and math and nature through Fibonacci numbers.

“I got to teach how math connects to science through carbon dating, and that was really fun,” said Sophie. “Math is a language we can all speak and it’s tied to so much, and I think as time goes on it gets more relevant. This was another chance for me to show students you can do amazing things with math. I hope the students in Unlocking Your Inner Mathematician have started to love math as much as Jerusha and I do.”

To see what kinds of math programs and clubs our secondary schools offer, look at this list of DSBN schools with links to their websites and find out!

What did students have to say about it?

“I think it’s so cool that what’s believed to be the first ‘ruler’ is actually a bone with notches on it.”

“I like learning about things you wouldn’t typically learn.
The isotopes were so cool and I really enjoy the ‘outside-the-box’ lesson themes.”

“History is by far my favourite subject, so I wouldn’t mind looking deeper into the mathematicians we learned about.”

“As someone who loses focus and gets distracted easily, I really appreciate you making this hands-on and interactive. Thank you so much.”