Going for the gold; Girl Scout earns highest honor by mixing math with fun and games

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By SUE SUCHYTA
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – By reinforcing skills through games and making math fun, Angela Brown of Dearborn shared her passion for learning while earning a Girl Scout Gold Award for exemplary public service.

“Math in a Box,” Brown’s Gold Award project, used games to make math fun and less intimidating. She developed games last summer after meeting with fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Iris Becker Elementary in June to become familiar with the curriculum and learn which skills most need reinforcing.

“I really like math myself and I wanted to make sure that the kids enjoyed math somehow if they didn’t already,” said Brown, 17, a senior at Divine Child High School in Dearborn who plans to study engineering at the University of Michigan. “I wanted to make sure that they could see that math was fun.”

She said she also wanted to be a role model for the girls, and to show them that girls can be good at math – that it is not just a “guy’s thing.”

“Math-based careers are important, and there is a lack of women in technical fields which require strong math skills,” Brown said. “I hoped to be a female role model for the students, and especially encourage more girls to study math.”

Brown said her mother, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, is her role model.

After meeting with teachers at Becker to learn about the fourth- and fifth-grade math curriculum, Brown bought materials, and created and packaged games over the summer to create the box of games she donated to the school.

She was pleased not only that the students were eager to meet her and learn to play the games, but to see the difference one person can make when they help others learn.

She said part of her plan is for the students to teach their classmates and younger students how to play the games, so future classes will learn and have fun with the games when she is no longer there.

“If I did something for them, they could help other people with it, too,” Brown said. “I remember in one of the sessions one of the little kids was like, ‘I can play this game at home with my family.’ And that is what I really wanted, for them to share it with other people and help build skills.”

Fourth-grade teacher Melissa Berry said Brown came in and taught some of her students not only how to play the math games, but how to teach their peers how to play the games and hone their math skills from the games.

“When Angela came in she worked with a couple of the students and she led them to basically be independent and teach the other kids to play these games,” Berry said. “With this particular group of kids it was so wonderful because the games are very hands-on, and it touches on so many parts of the math that we are learning or going to be learning throughout the school year.”

Berry said her class is very visually oriented and hands-on, so the games appealed to their learning styles.

“So anything that we could do to get them touching and playing and to tap into that part of their brains for them to make that connection it was awesome,” Berry said, “and that is what Angela was able to do for them with the games that she provided and the instructions. It helped all of them in one way or another make a connection.”

She said the math games Brown provided definitely had a positive impact on all her students.

“She was awesome,” Berry said. “You could tell she had the kids’ best interests at heart, so that was really refreshing.”

Fifth grade teacher Amal Khansa said the concept of learning by playing games appealed to her students immediately.

“First of all, the minute you say the word ‘game’ the students’ eyes seem to pop up right away,” Khansa said. “So a lot of the strategies and skills that we teach in the books are repeated in these math boxes. So the kids are learning, yet they are having fun, they are working in teams, they are solving problems together, they are talking together. When they convince each other, then they are actually learning, and we see that happen a lot with more with the games than we see it with paper and pencil or with handouts.”

Khansa said when students work in teams while playing a game, they are talking together and solving problems, skills that are important in the adult world.

Battleship, which teaches students to recognize and use grid coordinates, is a favorite math game of fifth graders Doaa Musa, 10, and Motaaz Almansob, 10, who like learning strategy while playing a game with a friend.

Fifth grader Hadeel Magrad, 11, likes playing a domino game that she said is fun and improves her multiplication skills.

The same domino game, per fifth grader Belal Dabaja, 10, helps him do better on math tests.

Principal David Higgins said Brown served as a role model, and the games were more than just entertaining for the students, and they let students use math skills together in a group setting.

The situation was also good from Brown, Higgins said. She used the
“train-the-trainer” concept, and those students taught other students how to play the games later.

He said Brown tends to be shy, but once she started working with the students, she was fine. He said the students were very eager and responsive as well.

“People don’t realize that when you come in and work with these kids, especially those that volunteered to stay after school and got permission, they are little sponges – they really wanted to do it,” Higgins said. “And then when you see that excitement (in the trainer) then they get excited, too, and they want to do it. It wasn’t just a project – it became bigger than that.”

Brown’s mother, Linda Brown, said she is proud that her daughter, who was to receive her Gold Award in a ceremony May 3, remained a Girl Scout all the way through the program.

“Usually as the girls get older, the troops get smaller and smaller and smaller,” she said. “And just the fact that she stayed in it and then she completed the highest award that you can get in Girl Scouts makes me really proud.”