Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 28, 2010

Added to math: Survivor challenges

Parents cook up reality-TV-themed offering

By Bethany Bray

Math lessons at Sanborn Elementary School went a little wild on Jan. 22. The entire school participated in "Math Survivor," a math challenge fashioned after the TV reality show "Survivor."

Classrooms in kindergarten through fifth grade broke into "tribes," as contestants on the show do, to complete Survivor-themed math problems and challenges last Friday morning. In between math problems, tribes could try a surprise bug- eating challenge - like true contestants scrounging for food in remote locales - but the bugs at Sanborn were gummi worms.

Each tribe came up with a name and designed a tribal flag, which students brought to schoolwide "tribal council" ceremonies to begin and end the game. Sanborn staff got into the excitement, wearing tropical attire for the day.

In the end, every classroom received a prize, picking an extra recess, an ice-cream party or a movie with popcorn.

"The enthusiasm was phenomenal. The kids were so excited to work on math, and work together with their classmates on math challenges. There was a great energy," said Principal Patricia Barrett. "One of the things we always strive for is working collaboratively. When you're looking at the jobs these kids will have, the skill they'll need, besides academics, is to work collaboratively."

Math Survivor was the brainchild of two Sanborn mothers, Mina Patel and Jodi MacDonald, who enlisted the help of 55 parent volunteers to run the event.

"The true moral and story behind Math Survivor is that math is fun and you can achieve a lot together with teamwork," said Patel. "Kids learn more when they're engaged ... They're learning and they're not even realizing it."

Math Survivor makes the subject fun, agreed Barrett, while fostering creativity, team building and good sportsmanship.

MacDonald is an engineer and Patel has a background in finance. The woman organized Sanborn Elementary's first Math Survivor challenge three years ago, as a way to prepare students for the MCAS but also meet a void they saw in curriculum enrichment.

Schools have science fairs and art shows, but never events centered around math, said Patel.

"We wanted to put an emphasis on math, and make it not such a frightening thought. We wanted to bring in something that made math fun and more approachable," said Patel.

As the idea got rolling, teams of parents and teachers created age-specific math challenges for each classroom. Finding parent volunteers was not a problem, said Patel.

"We at Sanborn are a really strong and tight community," she said. "Parents are eager to help out."

Barrett agreed, noting that some moms and dads took a day off from work to help with Math Survivor.