Math for Life Connects Schools, Students, Parents and Businesses

math for life
Dennis Craig of Kluh Jewelers celebrates with Math for Life participants.


By Eric Wilson-Edge

math for life
Dennis Craig of Kluh Jewelers celebrates with Math for Life participants.

Math doesn’t need to be a cringe inducing word.  You may think that you don’t need to know much math beyond addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

You can’t really build things if you don’t know geometry. Good luck buying a home or a car if you don’t understand interest rates. For all those kids wanting to be astronauts, the basics simply aren’t enough to get you to the moon.

“We want students to know that math isn’t just in the classroom but it’s something we use every day, in all kinds of businesses and in all walks of life,” says Thurston County Chamber of Commerce member Joseph Beaulieu.

For this reason the Chamber teamed up with local school districts to create Math for Life. Think of the program as a math treasure hunt. Students go around to participating businesses and answer age appropriate math questions.

Ross Irwin is the owner of Cabinets by Trivonna in Lacey. His business is one of 60 involved with Math for Life. “When kids come in I ask them questions,” says Irwin. “What do you think we do here? How do we use math? After some thinking most will come up with measuring.”

math for life
Students answer questions at the Olympia Tumwater Lacey Visitors Convention Bureau.

Irwin then gives the student a problem to solve. Sometimes he’ll challenge them to go up a grade level.  “It’s surprising how many times they go for the challenge and succeed,” says Irwin. Students are then given a mark like a star or stamp to show they’ve completed the task. Irwin also likes to throw in a little candy.

Students must go to five businesses to receive a medal and a small prize. “Some of these kids are really zealous about the program,” says Beaulieu. “Some will visit all 60 businesses.” Those who qualify are entered into a drawing for either an Android Tablet or Kindle Fire. Each school district then chooses a grand prize winner.

“We wanted to come up with some ideas that show kids that math can be cool and numbers are fun,” says Courtney Schrieve, Communications/Community Relations Director for North Thurston Public Schools.  Schrieve adds that NTPS celebrates math awareness by honoring a math star from each school in April, which is Math Awareness Month.

Shrieve says Math for Life is part of a bigger initiative to change perceptions about math. “In our district we’re trying to make math more of a household activity.  Schools host family math nights on a regular basis, and some of the district’s math teams have qualified for state and national competitions.

So, is it working?  Schrieve says math achievement scores are up across the country.  Beaulieu estimates more than 700 students will take part in Math for Life this year.

math for life
North Thurston Public Schools recognizes math stars each April.

Ross Irwin has been involved with the competition since it started four years ago. He says kids will come in and tell him they come to his business every year. The reaction for old and new faces is typically the same. “I’d say 80-90% of the kids are dragging their parents,” he notes.

Math for Life is really a win for all involved. It helps create bonds between local schools and businesses.  Students benefit from seeing how math works in different career fields. Parents get something fun do to with their kids.

Jennifer Cornwell took an afternoon over spring break with her two boys ages six and eleven. They went to five businesses ending at Bonjour Cupcakes.  “I think it’s great,” says Cornwell.  “It’s more realistic for kids and it’s fun to do math outside of a classroom.”

It’s not too late to participate. This year’s Math for Life runs until April 20. Packets were sent out to schools across the county so there’s a good chance your child received one – if the dog didn’t eat it.


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