Mathematics outreach program teaches youth about the joys of math

April 22, 2019

Mathematics outreach program teaches youth about the joys of math

Érika Roldán Roa teaches at a summer camp.

Érika Roldán Roa remembers being introduced to the joy of mathematics through a book when she was younger.

The book, Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner and James Newman, taught Roldán Roa how math can be fun. Now, the visiting assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics is aiming to instill that same joy in others through outreach.

With support from Department of Mathematics chair Jean-François Lafont, Dean of Natural and Mathematical Sciences Luis Casian and the Mathematics Advisory Board, Roldán Roa created and is lead organizer of “Buckeye Aha! Math Moments” (BAMM), an outreach program that spawned out of the department’s Outreach and Popularization of Mathematics and its Applications Project.

“I think mathematics could be not only a profession, but an activity you can do as a hobby — for fun,” Roldán Roa said. “People are designed to get pleasure out of recognizing patterns and solving problems. Mathematics, as a hobby, allows us to just enjoy that pleasure.”

The outreach program officially began January 2019, but it has roots dating back to the summer of 2018 when Roldán Roa helped form a summer camp for high school girls called “Beyond the Classroom: Girls Exploring Math.” The camp was aimed at instilling confidence in students’ math and programming skills through fun and engaging activities, and it will be held again in June 2019.

The summer camp, however, isn’t the extent of what the outreach program has accomplished so far. BAMM has also gone out into schools around the community, recently holding mathematics workshops at Red Oak Community School and Upper Arlington High School. 

On May 4, BAMM will have a tent with mathematics-focused activities and puzzles at the COSI Science Festival. Other departments from the College of Arts and Sciences involved with the festival include Anthropology, Linguistics, Molecular Genetics and Psychology. Roldán Roa expects her group to reach around 2,500 attendees.

“We’re preparing all the materials to receive people from all backgrounds,” she said. “It’s going to be a very diverse and inclusive environment.”

In the long term, BAMM is planning an initiative starting in fall 2020 that aims to set up two-year workshops in middle and high schools around Columbus. Modeled after the Department of Chemistry’s “Wonders of Our World Program,” the upcoming undertaking is devised in a way that allows the school to take the reins once implemented.

“They allow students to have not only one outreach experience, but a sequence of outreach experiences,” Roldán Roa said. “They have a longer impact in terms of getting students to realize if this is what they want to do.”

Though BAMM’s efforts are mainly spent on impacting the central Ohio community, it’s also important to Roldán Roa to generate a sense of community within the department. Over the holidays, faculty, staff and students gathered together to create origami ornaments, and Roldán Roa envisions a space in or around the Mathematics Tower — what she calls “a magic BAMM space” — that will serve as a mini math museum with exhibits and hands-on activities.

Though BAMM has only been around for a short time, its effects are already being felt on campus and around Columbus. Roldán Roa is confident it will continue growing and, with the department and Ohio State’s support, will have an impact that reverberates into the future.

“At Ohio State, I’ve found a place where they support projects that will have a lot of impact on the community and in society,” Roldán Roa said. “I’m very excited to be doing this outreach group with the support of the department and all of the levels of the university.”

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