JamesLee storyThird-grader James L. has always enjoyed solving math problems, but it is through opportunities provided by Nueva that he has been able to dive deep into the subject.

“As long as he is driving the bus and he wants to do it, Nueva will support whatever he wants to do,” his mother Jennifer said. “It’s not about just creating more challenging work packets in the classroom. The benefit is saying ‘You have an interesting idea and we’re going to support you exploring that and wherever it’s going to take you.’”

James said he enjoys math because he likes finding the patterns and thinks the process of solving problems is exciting.

“I find the process solving fun because I can always go deeper and there’s no end to it,” he said.

Recently, James attended Gathering for Gardner, an invitation-only mathematics conference held in Atlanta every two years. The event attracts approximately 300 of the top mathematicians in the country and comprises recreational mathematics such as puzzles, games, and magic. People who annually attend include mathematicians and professors from Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, and UC Berkeley.

“They’re there because they love puzzles as a fun expression of deep mathematics,” Jennifer said. “I think it was wonderful to put the kids in that environment and for them to be the next generation of people who are going to be in this community.”

During the conference, James collaboratively led a sculpture-building activity of the Menger sponge, a fractal. When it is sliced open it reveals an amazing pattern of stars inside.

“It was awesome,” Jennifer. “It’s a perfect example of how this very simple preschool block can be used to express very advanced mathematics. The other interesting piece is that this activity had all of these adults captivated. They were all captivated trying to solve that problem.

“This is an example of how Nueva builds this confidence where kids can go out and lead; they’re sharing what they know in a way that’s so exciting for other people and invites them in,” she added.

James has been studying and exploring the Menger sponge since he was in kindergarten. One day, he saw a sixth-grader at Nueva create a model of it. After seeing it, he decided he wanted to figure out how to make it.

James has worked with Lower and Middle School math teacher Peter Koehler to learn the math behind it. James spent a semester in the I-Lab building a 3-D model of it.

“Peter has always presented a question and will stick with it and follow James’s lead wherever that’s going to go” Jennifer.

Peter said he has worked with James since he was in preK and when he comes to math most of the time he’s serious and very attentive.

“He has an eye for what is the problem,” Peter said. “I almost don’t have to challenge him; he challenges himself. He has a sense of what mathematicians would want to know.

“I’m able to teach him algebra and formulas through patterns,” he added. “You can teach him basically anything if you want. He absorbs it all.”

In class, James works on original ideas with Peter. James often starts with a small idea and expands upon it.

“He helps me learn by giving me a little bit of information,” James said. “I know the solution, but I don’t know how to get there. I know the start and the end, but I don’t know the middle and he’ll help me get there.”

James has been deeply passionate about math since he was two or three years old.

“Nueva has been instrumental in developing James’s passion,” Jennifer said. “Nueva has always let him go as far and as deep on questions he has as he’s ready to go.”

In first grade, he wanted to build the Menger sponge, so time was carved out for him to go to the I-Lab and work with I-Lab Director Kim Saxe; Technology, Innovation Design & Engineering Coach Steve Westwood; and Design Thinking Coach George Jemmott.

“They carved out time for him to just be in there figuring it out,” Jennifer Tyler Lee added.

He’s currently working with Bill Gosper, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology trained mathematician on taking the Menger sponge to the next level; he’s coding the Menger sponge in Mathematica, a computer program. He’s also exploring building a hockey robot.

“What he’s learning is not the things a computer can do,” Jennifer Tyler Lee said. “He’s learning how to ask questions and pursue answering questions for himself.

“You can teach kids how to take tests and score well in a math competition, but the way in which Nueva is supporting James, it allows his mathematical creativity to flourish,” she added. “They’re allowing him to come to his own understanding.“


June 10, 2016

 

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