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Math in the Living World: walkSTEM Guides the Way

Eager groups of students, parents, educators and other residents explore the streets and sidewalks of Dallas every month, searching for something rarely sought out and often avoided — math problems.

Guided Tour in Dallas, TexasWalkSTEM, a project lead by the nonprofit talkSTEM, facilitates guided tours through downtown Dallas to connect key math concepts to the living world. TalkSTEM is dedicated to connecting STEM professionals and engaging a diverse community in STEM learning and teaching. Designed as a one-time event, walkSTEM was such a hit that it expanded into a monthly gathering after its March launch.

Dr. Koshi Dhingra, founder and director of talkSTEM, said walkSTEM allows people to actively discover math in the space around them.

It’s almost like we’re trying to rebrand math, she notes. “We’re getting people to see that mathematics and STEM are accessible in their lives. And enjoyable — that’s important, too.”

In addition to expanding the event’s frequency, Dr. Dhingra has created resources for teachers to use in their classrooms.

The program was inspired by “math walks” conducted by Dr. Glen Whitney, walkSTEM advisor and founder of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City. “To me, it was brilliant,” says Dr. Dhingra. “I always wanted to go on math walks – partly because I never saw myself as a particularly great math student.”

Dr. Dhingra, who holds a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, shares her math struggles to explain that she understands students’ negative feelings toward the subject.

Dr. Dhingra shared an exciting moment that a volunteer experienced after an elementary tour. The volunteer said she saw a mother trying to gather her kids as two or three children huddled near the edge of a nearby sidewalk. They were recreating an activity they had done on the walk with stones on the ground. Dr. Dhingra remembers that the mom repeatedly called for them, “but they weren’t coming – why? They were doing math in the real world!”

 Once you get a kid engaged, they’re learning. The question is, ‘How do you engage the person who is the student?’, Dr. Dhingra says.

One of the ways walkSTEM works to engage more students is by giving teachers videos that showcases activities and lessons designed to connect real-life applications to important, hard-to-teach mathematical concepts.

“For me, the way we can have the greatest impact is reaching educators,” says Dr. Dhingra. She hopes to expand the program to include videos and resources from teachers and students from all over the country.


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