“I Believe I Can Do Math!” – Fairbanks Summer Math Camp by Mentor Teacher Samantha Wuttig

Students building and exploring 3D shapes.

This June in Fairbanks about 50 middle school students participated in a three week Summer Math Camp. This year’s camp focused on encouraging students to notice and wonder, to see different ways patterns grow, to persevere in solving problems, and to believe in themselves. This camp, which is sponsored by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, recruits students who are entering 6th, 7th or 8th grade and who receive services from one of the following programs: Special Education, Alaska Native Education, Migrant Education, English Language Learners or McKinney Vento.

Starting off the day playing Chip Away! from ThinkFun.

A typical day for students begins with exploring puzzles before camp officially begins. Around 9 am, all students begin by playing a game with a classmate. After playing the game a couple of times, students discuss what strategies they have developed and suggest ideas to change the game to create a new variation. Following the game, students are broken into small groups to participate in a ‘number talk’ where they use mental math to solve problems. Students share their strategies with their classmates to gain a better understanding of different ways to solve problems. Next, students participate in team building activities to help them to get to know their classmates. For the remainder of the morning, students study visual patterns, exploring different ways that the patterns grow, showing how they grow with colors, words, and numbers. The afternoon begins with a video with a growth mindset message, where students share with a partner and with the class, what they learned. After the mindset message, students are separated into two groups to explore an image, sharing what they notice and wonder about it. The remainder of the afternoon is spent exploring geometry.

The idea for Summer Math Camp came from the work of Dr. Jo Boaler and Stanford’s Youcubed summer math to help students realize that they can think mathematically. In 2016, the first Summer Math Camp began with about 40 students and many ambitious ideas. Over the years, the camp teachers have learned to tailor the camp to target a few ideas. Math camp teachers have realized that not only do students need to believe that they can think mathematically but teachers do as well. As a result, a class for teachers has been created where part of the class involves coming to math camp. This year, Summer Math Camp in Fairbanks is now part of the research that Youcubed is doing to study the impact of summer math camps.

Students explaining their growing patterns to each other.

The impact of Summer Math Camp is amazing. Math camp teachers learn just as much as the students by hearing how students see the world of math. At the end of camp, students are asked to write about how math camp has changed them. One student replied that “I used to think that math was boring because I did not like it at first but then I went to math camp and I started to like math and I believe I can do math!”  This is what Summer Math Camp is striving to achieve for all students!

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