During math month in October, Allegheny Middle School taught parents and students that math isn’t quite as scary as they thought. Using a series of interactive events, the school engaged both kids and parents in real-life math applications, a little bit of friendly competition and a whole lot of fun.

The Amazing Math Race, an evening of competitive fun and learning for students and their parents, took place on Oct. 27. It was followed by the Math Blitz, a day of math exploration for eighth graders, on Oct. 29.

The Amazing Math Race was based on the reality TV show “The Amazing Race,” in which competing teams race around the world solving challenges and winning prizes.

In Allegheny’s version, students in grades six through eight and their parents worked in teams of three to solve equations on a “roadmap” of the school.

Team members ran around the building solving problems and receiving stamps, after which they could move onto the next problem. 

This year, five teams competed to solve equations about math topics such as probability and parameters, which are numbers that define characteristics of equations.

Many of the problems were interactive — in the gym, for example, students had to shoot hoops and then calculate the percentage of the shots they made.

The team with the fastest final time for solving all the problems won the race.

The goal of the event was to introduce parents to the math content and types of problems their children will study throughout middle school. This marked the Amazing Math Race’s fifth year, and it has been well received by both parents and students in the past.

“Math is scary,” said Stephanie Capan, a sixth grade math teacher at the school. “It gives [the parents] an opportunity to see that it’s not that scary. They see it in a fun way.”

The event was coordinated with the help of Allegheny’s Parent Engagement Specialist Donna McManus and the school’s math department. Every year, the math department designs the problems to focus on Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test questions, or skills commonly used for the test.

According to McManus, the teachers bring their expertise in math content when planning the event, and everyone bounces ideas off of each other.

“We work really well as a team,” McManus said. 

Shortly after the Amazing Math Race, the Math Blitz took place both inside and outside of the Allegheny school walls. The annual event was meant to get students into the community and making real-life connections about how math is used.

The school sent its eighth graders, along with chaperones, out into the city of Pittsburgh to visit several businesses that had been contacted ahead of time. The students then made observations about how those businesses used math in their daily activities.

Locations included the Carnegie Science Center, Rita’s Italian Ice on East Ohio Street, the Children’s Museum and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Outside of the businesses, students even took notes on how math affects the design of the city — the patterns of stoplights, for example, or the number of stops on a bus system.

When the students returned, they created a presentation to share with their classmates about what they had learned. The entire experience was focused on making real-life math connections and answering the all-too-common question of “Why do I need to know this stuff?”

Each month at Allegheny is devoted to a different content area. The Amazing Math Race and Math Blitz were part of October’s math month. November will be devoted to communications, allowing a new department of teachers to interact with students and their families.

Tracy Patinski is a full-time graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s professional writing program and currently interns with The Northside Chronicle.