Slower/Faster, Larger/Smaller: Exploring Ratio and Proportion with ‘Math Moves’

“This chair is too big!” she exclaimed. So, she tried out the next chair.”This chair is too small,” she said. So, she tried the very last chair in the corner.”This chair is JUST right,” and she said happily snuggled into it.-Goldilocks at the Math Moves Exhibit

TERCtalks tries out the ‘Math Moves’ chairs for size at the Museum of Science, Boston

There’s something quite fantastical about the new ‘Math Moves’ exhibit at the Museum of Science in Boston. Entering the Blue Wing flanked by a larger-than-life chair (and a doll-sized one) to the tune of sonic resonance and the sight of cast shadows, the setting is far more Robert Southey-ish/Lewis Carroll-y than ‘Museum Forum for Pre-Algebra Learning’ or ‘Early Preparation for STEM Career Interest’. But—as a true testament to the exhibit’s success—‘Math Moves’ exposes youngsters ages 6-12 to concepts of ratio and proportion through genuinely fun activities that are not only ‘hands-on’—they’re multisensorily, experientially and kinesthetically-on!

In the ‘Math Moves’ realm, grasping proportion can be as simple as sizing up three chairs (a la ‘Goldilocks’ above) or manipulating and gauging shadow sizes by moving cutout objects in front of a light source. Understanding ratio can come through dancing on a rainbow footboard near a monitor where visitors can see visualizations of their speed in comparison to a partner’s speed, or moving wheels along a track to compare frequencies of sound. And active engagement with fractions could come through building blocks, balancing levers, or even using body size as a relative unit of measure.

The ‘Math Moves’ exhibit is part of the MathCore project, a 5-year research endeavor and partnership between Explora (Albuquerque, NM); the Museum of Science, Boston; the North Carolina Museum of Life + Science; the Science Museum of Minnesota; San Diego State University’s Center for Research in Math & Science Education; Selinda Research Associates; and TERC’s Tracey Wright, funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-0840320). Educators from the four institutions, three research centers, and advisors met in the first year to develop innovative ideas for exhibits on ratio and proportion. The result is a collaborative exhibit that is being hosted at the four institutions over the next 3 years. The project is being evaluated on visitor experience over time.

Next up for MathCore? An exhibit component uniting dance and math, currently in development. Think dancing “twice as fast” or “half as fast” within a fixed amount of time is a no-brainer? Well, even this adult learned a thing or two about math and movement during a test trial. Stay tuned for further details!

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