Solving Problems at the Math Cafe
Sitting around the tall table in the back of the classroom, students are hunched over a worksheet deep in conversation. They move around the table as they brainstorm until they uncover the solution to the problem in front of them. Smiles and high fives reach across the table. Together, they just solved a difficult math problem.
The Math Café has become a popular destination among the halls of Houma Junior High. The idea for the café came to eighth grade math teacher Melissa Williamson due to her own three sons.
“I have raised three sons who drove some of their teachers a bit crazy with the need to move and their inability to sit still for so long,” Melissa said. “The popularity of standing desks inspired me to create a standing table to allow movement and encourage team work.”
Through a grant from Terrebonne Foundation for Academic Excellence (TFAE), Melissa purchased the supplies needed to build the standing table. The students worked together using math and engineering skills to create blueprints for the table and help put the table together.
As an engineer for 14 years, Melissa said the most important lesson her students learned through building the math café was that math and engineering are never done solo in real life.
“Groups work together at all times,” Melissa said. “I want my classroom to feel like a real work space. In all fields, professionals are encouraged to interact with each other and share ideas. The classroom should prepare them using that same setting.”
The Math Café has become a space for students of all levels to interact – from honors and gifted classes to special education and inclusion classes.
“Discipline problems are almost non-existent for students at the café,” Melissa said. “Students smile, interact, and engage when they are able to share ideas in a group setting.”
Through the use of the Math Café, Melissa has been able to “adopt” several non-honor students into her honors class to see if movement and flexible seating would help them, which it has. All of those students are taking honors math tests now and doing very well.
“The Math Café sharpens students’ social skills and their math skills.” Melissa said. “It’s a win-win!”