Parents Design Math-friendly Playground:

Art at Jackson STEM Magnet makes fun count for students.

American Hernandez
Los Angeles Register / Orange County Register
June 13, 2014

ALTADENA – A little elbow grease from parents and some help from nonprofit Big Sunday have brought a bright new numbers game to the asphalt grounds outside Jackson STEM Dual Language Magnet Academy.

Armed with stencils, paint and a design plan created by two parents, volunteers colored the elementary school’s courtyard with multiplication tables from 2s to 12s for students to practice interval counting. “It’s a testament to what can be accomplished when you allow people to think creatively outside the box and empower parents to get involved in their children’s school,” Principal Rita Exposito said. The bright red, yellow, green and blue designs were the brainchild of parents Cindy Simkovich and Liliana Awori. The idea began percolating after a group of parents decided the walkways at the school looked sparse and foreboding.

“I have four children that are very kinesthetic learners who need to move around when learning,” Simkovich said. “So when my granddaughter started the second grade, I thought that they could do skip-counting on a design to learn the multiplication tables.”

Awori, who is an architect, developed the final design and chalked out the sketch, making sure easy intervals like the 2s were near kindergarten classrooms, while more complex intervals and fractions were near the upper grades.

“We talked about how big the shapes needed to be to force a child to jump or hop to the next step, to make sure they had to put physical work into it, and we wanted to use different colors and shapes so they understood as they jumped to a new color it would be a different interval pattern,” Simkovich said.

Nonprofit organization Big Sunday provided a small grant and volunteers to help with the project.

On May 17, 20 parents spent five hours painting squares, circles and diamonds. Each shape is about 2 feet by 2 feet, and there are 100 shapes – teaching multiplication, fractions and time-telling – throughout the area.

The courtyard was unveiled May 31 at the school’s first Field Day event, which included a scavenger hunt using the math shapes as well as face painting, pony rides and various raffles and game booths. Exposito said the children will play on the math courtyard several times a week during lunch and recess, adding that teachers will integrate math lessons with physical education to make learning fun and physical for students.

“Before the painting even began and we were chalking out the design, the kids came out for recess and immediately began hopping and jumping around, even though there wasn’t any color yet,” Simkovich said.

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