For anyone working in areas that are either directly or tangentially related to the field of education, the concept of connected learning is of course, not anything new. But it’s more necessary than ever, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, and the resulting school disruptions and other attendant stresses placed on children and their families. It’s never been as essential as it is now to find meaningful, engaging ways to connect learning—not only between home and classroom, but also between home, classroom, and the communities and surrounding environments in which people live—and where they are spending more time than they ever have.
My effort to start a company, one that had the goal of supporting connected learning as part of our mission, began long before the pandemic. But now that finding creative ways of connecting learning between homes, schools, and communities has become a necessity, as opposed to just a lofty goal, I think what we’re doing has become especially relevant. So let me take a step back and introduce myself. My name is Omowale Moses and I’m a dad of two young children, Johari (8) and Kamara (6). I’m also the founder of MathTalk. MathTalk is a public benefit corporation that was founded in 2015 to help young children, particularly those from economically distressed communities, to develop positive math identities by creating regular opportunities to discover and interact with math in their daily lives, wherever they are.
The idea for MathTalk began with the Algebra Project and the seminal work of its founder and my dad, Bob Moses. Through my experiences with the Algebra Project I learned that math can be learned through conversation and in a relevant context. And that success in math could radically change individual opportunities and life outcomes. When I became a dad myself, I wanted my son and I to learn about and talk about math while doing the things that we enjoyed, and that we loved doing together. So for my son, math time happened when we were making breakfast. Math happened in the playground or in the park, and math happened when we rode trains together.
And it was these early experiences with my son that reinforced the idea that “math is everywhere” and is readily accessible, particularly for kids as they begin their journey as learners. These experiences brought home for me the importance of connecting home, school, and community, ultimately leading to the founding of MathTalk. Because even though I was personally very comfortable with the concept of having math-related conversations with my son and teaching him math concepts from a very early age, I knew that wasn’t the case for most parents or family members. In fact, 93% of American adults report at least some level of anxiety around math—which hardly puts them in a position to feel in any way capable of supporting their children with early math learning at home. MathTalk was founded in order to help address that very problem, by providing resources to parents that enable them to participate in their children’s learning in fun ways that can take place during the course of their everyday routines—while cooking, while commuting, while at the park, while waiting at the doctor’s office—or while anywhere else in the community.
We began our work at MathTalk by creating hotspots for positive early math learning experiences in economically distressed neighborhoods. Beginning in the Boston area, and over time expanding to Chicago, we partnered with local organizations and authorities to create installations, signage and unique augmented reality experiences and place them in indoor and outdoor active and waiting spaces. Our installations give adults and children the opportunity to physically interact with math in fun, non-intimidating ways, either introducing important early math concepts like measurement and comparison to young children; or building off of and reinforcing math concepts that older children are already learning in schools. We want these installations—which are essentially public reminders that math is everywhere—to help strengthen relationships, not just between parents and children, but between families and their surrounding communities. Providing these opportunities in parks, playgrounds, waiting rooms, and more, leads to math conversations and engagement around math that may not have otherwise taken place—and helps deepen children and families’ connection to and interaction with their larger communities.
In October, we’ll be launching a new app called Measure! Everything! (Spanish) that uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology to bring 3D animals and objects to life in children’s homes, backyards, communities—or wherever they are. Children can select from a wide variety of animals or objects—think dinosaurs, apples, pandas, anacondas, and more—and line them up to use them as non-standard units of measurement to measure anything in their environment. We’ve also created a series of exciting math “adventures” within the app, which will send children and parents around the house or into their neighborhoods or parks to practice their measurement and other early math skills—all with the goal of getting kids up and out to discover and explore the math all around them. The app is another tool that we hope will strengthen connections between home, school, and community—whether distance or in-person learning is taking place, the app offers parents and teachers the chance to partner together in support of math learning through use of the app. Outdoor math adventures using the app and the partnerships we’re developing with local organizations, parks and recreation facilities, public housing authorities, and others will help strengthen community ties and bring positive early learning opportunities to places that typically haven’t had an abundance of those kinds of opportunities.
At MathTalk, we know that math is everywhere and can be used by anyone to better understand the world; we also know that playful learning reduces math anxiety and creates positive math experiences for kids and parents alike. And math conversation improves cognitive development, leading to positive math experiences and boosting of math confidence, and early math learning is a leading predictor of kindergarten readiness and school success. So the connection that MathTalk products and services help to establish between home, school, and community is our attempt to help a new generation of young learners, regardless of where they live, to embrace math and all the educational and economic opportunities that math understanding leads to.
Guest blog post by Omowale Moses