Kids in Lafayette summer math camp have fun with numbers

An Olympic-themed summer math camp launched by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette has attracted dozens of mathematically gifted students to J. Wallace James Elementary school to duke it out for mathematics gold.

The free summer camp is being put on by the UL-Lafayette math education department in cooperation with five Lafayette Parish middle school math teachers enrolled in the Louisiana Mathematics Masters in the Middle program.

“It’s a challenge (teaching a) different age group, but we are enjoying it,” said Paul Breaux Middle School seventh-grade gifted algebra teacher Corissa Guidry. “It’s neat to see what they can do. Once they know what’s going on, they’re in it.”

The 10-day camp, which runs through Wednesday, challenged more than 40 incoming sixth-grade students from at-risk Lafayette public schools to flex their mathematics muscles. Identical camps took place in Iberia and Vermilion parishes.

Earlier in the week, students used their brains and brawn to build a dome designed to support a certain amount of weight.

“I think they’re doing a good job,” Guidry said. “I’m impressed with the projects they’ve been doing.”

The young, jersey-clad Olympians sat in a circle in the elementary school’s gym Wednesday morning as they went through their drills.

L.J. Alleman Middle School eighth-grade math teacher Lisa Sudduth stood in the center. She told one of the kids to stand up, then pointed at the number 11 on his jersey.

“Is this a prime number?” she asked the rest of the group.

The crowd jubilantly shouted, “Yes!”

“Why’s that?” Sudduth continued.

“Because the only way to get 11 by multiplying is one times 11!” the kids exclaimed.

After Sudduth quizzed the group on prime numbers some more, the teachers split the students into four groups to work on their math skills in the “Ratio Racetrack,” the “Geometry Gym,” the “Algebra Arena” and the “Game On” room.

The kids won gold, silver or bronze medals depending on how well they performed in various events, all designed to help them hone their mathematical skills.

At the Ratio Racetrack, students calculated the ratio of successful shots they made on the basketball court to the total number of shots they took.

Youngsville Middle School teacher Josie Abington, clad in a Miami Heat jersey, led the basketball exercise.

“I love it,” she said. “I love working with the children. It’s amazing to see how they think.”

She said teaching kids younger than her middle school students has been a delight.

“They’re much more willing to please,” Abington said, as the kids took turns shooting and recording numbers. “When your tone changes, they stop and try to figure out what they did wrong.”

In the Game On room, eighth-grade STEM Academy teacher Lerri Cockrell led the students in a logic game she created to reinforce what they’ve learned from the other three venues.

“They’re pretty enthusiastic,” Cockrell said. “It’s pretty great to see them get excited about solving math problems.”

The camp was a project planned by the 14 teachers enrolled in UL-Lafayette’s Louisiana Mathematics Masters in the Middle program, a graduate course funded by a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF funds are used to provide professional development to local middle school math teachers with master’s degrees, as well as to foster middle school students’ interest in the math and sciences.

After completing 30 hours of graduate-level courses at UL-Lafayette and the 50-hour camp, the teachers willl receive an elementary mathematics specialist certification, the first of its kind in the state.

As for the future of the first-year camp, Guidry said they want to bring this year’s campers back to add on to what they learned this summer.

“We’re hoping to get them back in consecutive years, and follow this group of students, as well as add more students,” she said. “I’ll be interested in seeing how it progresses in the next couple years.”