Aerospace engineer Dean Driver has been serving as a volunteer tutor in elementary schools for over a decade, mostly working with students in lower income schools. Frustrated with traditional math teaching methods that were not working for a large percentage of students, he envisioned a teaching system that would allow children to physically move from number to number and develop a true spatial understanding of math. Another benefit of such a program was that it would increase the students’ activity levels, which is becoming a more important factor as the incidence of childhood obesity and diseases like diabetes continue to rise.
In the fall of 2005, Pathematics™ was born in the form of a colorful 70-foot-long vinyl banner.
Students at Erwin Montessori School in Greensboro, North Carolina, were the first students to set their feet on a Pathematics™ Runway (see photo at right). The first experiences were very encouraging, with both teachers and students seeing math in a new way, and with renewed enthusiasm.
Based on lessons learned from the prototype Runway, the next version (June, 2006) was improved in several ways. First, standard Montessori colors were used to represent the numbers one through ten. Second, much more mathematical information was coded into the Runway, especially the notation of factors bigger than ten (so you could count by 12′s or 23′s, instead of just by one through ten). Third, the Runway was given a cleaner, bolder overall look. The basic Runway has been unchanged since that time.
Pathematics™ was selected as part of a summer program at North Carolina A&T State University called the Engineer’s Starter Program, a week long math and science enrichment camp for rising sixth graders interested in careers in science and technology. Because these students were typically more advanced than previous students on the Runway, new activities were created to engage this group. Students learned about manipulating very large and very small numbers, doing operations with fractions, exponential notation and negative numbers. Since it was summer (and hot!), the last day’s activities involved passing water-filled balloons up and down the Runway as students solved equations with their feet. The experience was declared a great success, and Pathematics™ returned to the same program in 2007.
The first permanent Pathematics™ Runway was installed at Washington Elementary School in Greensboro, NC, in the Fall of 2006.
This process took a previously underutilized school resource – a concrete play area – and turned it into a unique area for math instruction. About nine feet wide (the banners were only six feet wide), this roomier Runway gave the students a bit more elbow room and better traction for running and jumping. As you can see in the photo at right, we believe that Pathematics is the only math teaching tool that can be seen from satellites in orbit!
More recently, Pathematics™ was selected by North Carolina’s Guilford County School System for installation in four additional schools (three have been installed at this date), and one other school sought its own grant to get Pathematics™ into its curriculum. In the Spring of 2009, an afterschool program based at NC A&T State University trained approximately thirty undergraduate tutors in the Pathematics™ method, and over forty 3rd through 5th graders received intense instruction once a week.
Over the entire history, lesson plans and teaching materials have been developed using an evolutionary approach: the successes were developed and built upon, while the failures eliminated or modified. At this point there are lesson plans covering all elementary grade levels and dozens of math topics from basic number sense and pattern recognition to statistics and data analysis. Lessons range from instructor-driven, demonstrative activities to self-guided (and self-correcting) explorations and games. All involved believe we have just scratched the surface of what is possible with Pathematics™.
In May of 2010, the very first Pathematics™ carpet was produced.
Measuring about 6 feet by 70 feet and using the latest in computer-generated graphic technology, this carpet provides a soft, colorful environment for indoor Pathematics™ instruction. The first carpet is now being installed at Penn Forest Elementary in Roanoke, Virginia.