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Asheville Initiative for Mathematics Through UNC Asheville

Project Snowflake

The Asheville Initiative for Mathematics is a public outreach project run by the Math department. Our mission is to promote excellence in math education and universal math literacy.  One step in that direction is to help people remember how much fun math can be – and how creative – and how beautiful.  This is the motivation behind Project Snowflake.  We hope you enjoy making paper snowflakes!  And it’s even more fun with friends and family!  Look for these snowflakes in the windows at local businesses, pictures of them on Facebook, and share pictures of your own! #avlsnowflake.

Why Math Literacy

Math literacy is more important than ever for the future of our nation, but our nation lags behind all other industrial countries in math education.

The national workforce of future years will surely have to handle quantitative concepts more fully and more deftly than at present. So will the citizens and policy leaders who deal with the public interest in positions of civic leadership. Sound education in mathematics across the population is a national interest. Final Report, President’s National Mathematics Advisory Council, 2008

There is much discussion about the achievement gap between racial groups. Though not as stark as the economic gap, racial gaps have not narrowed in the last few decades. However, a well-supported math education helps to eliminate both of these indicators.

Research suggests a strategy of supporting student’s math skills and preparing all students for upper-level math courses in high school. The ability to achieve such a goal is not far-fetched. We need to bring resources to bear on math literacy. However, teachers and school systems cannot address this issue alone. We must enlarge the conversation of improving math literacy to include teachers, students, parents, academic administrators, business leaders and community leaders to even have a chance at success.

The role of UNC Asheville as a public institution is to bring students, teachers and research to the table. By acting as a facilitator, UNC Asheville is well-positioned to impact math literacy locally and to act as a model for other communities to address this critical national issue.

The goal of public outreach is to reframe how we think of math. Math literacy includes the skills of arithmetic, mastery of basic statistical concepts, problem-solving skills, critical-thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively in quantitative terms. These are essential skills in our current work force environment and will continue to grow in importance for personal economic success. These skills also allow us to adapt to a constantly shifting work arena. 

Guiding Assumptions

  1. Mathematics is the study of relations between objects. 
  2. Mathematics is fun and should be celebrated.
  3. Everyone can learn and enjoy mathematics.
  4. Mathematics connects to everyone’s everyday experience. 
  5. There is no such dichotomy as “numbers people” and “words people.” 
  6. Math literacy improves learning outcomes in math and science.
  7. Math literacy helps develop executive function, which in turn positively impacts every facet of a person’s life. 
  8. Mathematics can positively transform both the individual and the community by opening doors to higher education, critical thinking, executive function, financial planning and self-esteem.

History

In Fall 2006, the UNC Asheville Math Department decided to extend our community outreach. But, we wanted to avoid a top-down approach, telling the community what they need. Instead we listened to community partners and identified needs and resources We formed an informal group of allies. Our conversations led to multiple activities including public outreach, professional development and tutor training. We are currently building a sustainable balance of outreach, student research and tutoring resources.

The Asheville Institute of Mathematics serves as conduit for faculty, students and ideas to reach out to the community and to identify and respond to needs in the community related to mathematics.

We currently sponsor an after-school program at the Pisgah View Apartments called “Marvelous Math Club.”  Two UNC Asheville students are paid to spend every Monday afternoon with children who live in Pisgah View doing fun math activities, helping with homework, tutoring and generally building a positive attitude toward math with these young K-5 students.  There are currently between 20 and 25 kids who regularly come to Math Club, and our intent is that next year, when those in the club graduate to 6th grade, they will come back and serve as tutors and mentors to the younger members.  With appropriate funding, we would like to build on our success in Pisgah View and offer a Marvelous Math Club to every housing project in the city.  

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