Instead of jumping right into their math classes, Ursuline students began the year outside of their classrooms, participating in a Week of Inspirational Math during the first full week of school.
The Week of Inspirational Math, or WIM, was held in the Kiva during each math period. Students from all grade levels teamed up, working together to solve visual, deep-thinking math problems accompanied by videos on gaining the proper math mindset. Mrs. Hayes and Mrs. Lanier organized WIM at Ursuline with the hope that students would change their perspective on math.
“The main focus of WIM was changing mindset around math and providing strategies for introducing and talking about math to help encourage that different mindset. It’s more about deep thinking rather than quick regurgitation,” said Mrs. Lanier.
The math activities Ursuline girls completed during WIM looked very different from typical algebra, geometry, or calculus problems, with WIM group activities using sugar cubes, for example, to create visual connections. Sonia Stadler 20’ enjoyed many parts of WIM.
“Meeting upperclassmen is always fun, and the fact that we can all get together to find solutions together is fantastic. I learned that there are different ways to get the same answer to the same question,” Sonia said.
Professor of Mathematics Education at Standford University, Jo Boaler, created the Week of Inspirational Math, which has been implemented in schools across the United States and in other countries. The Ursuline Math teachers learned of this idea at a conference many of them attended in the spring and summer. Mrs. Hayes and Mrs. Lanier both went in the summer.
Mrs. Hayes said, “I wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. The other teachers who went before us were super excited about it and were trying to get us onboard with a new approach to teaching mathematics.”
At the conference, Mrs. Hayes and Mrs. Lanier learned about the brain science behind this new math mindset which puts a greater emphasis on number sense rather than speed and regurgitation. Ursuline math teachers gained a better understanding of what math anxiety looks like in students.
“I think, as teachers, we don’t always sympathize, but they explained that as the way that some people react to a snake, that’s the same physiological response as for how some people react to math,” Mrs. Lanier said.
Mrs. Hayes and Mrs. Lanier saw the impact WIM could have on Ursuline girls struggling in their math classes, so they spent their plane ride home planning how to institute WIM at Ursuline.
“We were immediately excited to talk to the people who had already gone, and we just started planning and organizing. Dr. Shirley had already heard about the conference, so we just had to present a proposal and get it approved” Mrs. Hayes said.
After the Week of Inspirational Math at Ursuline had ended and students resumed their normal classes, math teachers and students alike reflected on how the week went and the impact it had on the Ursuline math program.
Mrs. Hayes said, “I had some students who said it was a good start to the year and a good confidence booster that allowed them to really realize that it is okay to make a mistake and how you bounce back from it is what matters.”
The math department isn’t sure whether Ursuline will continue to have a Week of Inspirational math at the beginning of each year. Through surveys sent to students and teachers, organizers will be able to see what direction they will take WIM—if it will be held in the Kiva again with multiple classes from varying age ranges, or if it will occur in each separate class.
“I know we will all continue to try to give our students the opportunity to have these same sorts of experiences in day to day classes and I think we want to have these sorts of opportunities to explore and to investigate day-to-day without the fear of failing,” said Mrs. Hayes.