Choosing a School
We've been lucky enough to work with the amazing teachers and staff at Lockwood Elementary. This has been a great environment for the fairs because of the amazing support they have given us. Some of the characteristics of Lockwood that we've found most helpful are:
- teachers willingness to engage with us for the planning stages,
- logistical support at the facility,
- feedback from teachers and students about the activities, and support of teachers during the fair to help with any disciplinary needs.
Here is a list of some of the important considerations for designing activities, based on our experience:
- Engaging physical or real life application: we like to make our activities either exciting and novel (lasers, chemical experiments, etc) or related to the students everyday lives (grocery store, estimation, etc).
- High level math content: don't be swept away by fancy science experiments, remember that math is the focus but also remember that there are math concepts (geometry, ratios, fractions, etc) that can be presented in non-algebraic ways.
- Open-ended math problems: although some of the problems are, by necessity, formulaic (ie. measure, convert units, etc), allowing students to approach the problem from a variety of angles such as drawing pictures, writing formulas, etc. makes the problem approachable for different learning styles. Problems that don't have a "right" answer, but rather focus on a method, can be powerful learning tools.
- Be aware of how many volunteers you can expect. Some activities require more oversight from volunteers---so be reasonable about what can be done.
- We've been lucky enough to have good funding sources which has allowed us to invest in some big ticket items, however for a number of these activities don't need more than some paper and a pencil! Work with the school to determine what materials they may be able to provide.
Finding and Instructing Workers
- Trial run: the day before the fair, we gather the volunteers to talk them through the activities and to designate "activity leaders". This has proven invaluable to make set-up easy and give the volunteers a chance to become comfortable with the activities.
- Split up volunteers with experience: if you're lucky enough to have volunteers who have experience with elementary school students (tutoring, camp counsel, siblings) have a few of these volunteers at each station.
- Provide a "script": by writing out instructions and definitions on flip charts ahead of time, volunteers don't have to search for words. This also has the added advantage of providing clear instructions for students and teachers.
- It's been important to us to make our volunteer's day as easy as possible. The day is usually long, and since most grad students don't interact with elementary students regularly the day is fun, but exhausting! We provide both breakfast and lunch for our volunteers as well as our volunteer "I Heart Math" shirt.