March Math Madness

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by Heidy Shinn

Prinipal, Rocketship Sí Se Puede Academy

 “Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.” – Dean Schlicter

When it comes to STEM education, the case for curiosity and exploration often gets lost in the traditional classroom. At Rocketship we believe in encouraging our student’s appetite for learning by igniting their curiosity and allowing them to experience learning. Last month for example, Rocketeers at Si Se Puede Academy found the connection between math and basketball during the NCAA March Madness tournament as they were transformed into court-side statisticians at the SAP Center in San Jose.

We caught up with Si Se Puede Principal Heidy Shin to find out more about this March Math Madness. Check out her story below. 


March may not be as glamorous as January with its new beginnings or October with its ghosts and goblins, but it has annual traditions that truly make for a thrilling month. We honor Cesar Chavez and St. Patrick, and then there are Pi Day and the NCAA tournament. With our March-themed month, “We Are All Mathematicians,” March Madness and Pi Day held even greater purpose and joy this year as the irrational and statistically improbable created believers in all of us. Our fourth and fifth graders were  able to see their brackets come alive through a trip to watch an NCAA basketball practice in person! As a former math teacher, I strove to make mathematics come alive in the classroom. Now as a school principal, I am honored to make our whole campus a community of math aficionados.

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First grade Math Competition winner pi-es a teacher on Pi Day at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy

Pi Day has historically been the most popular event at Si Se Puede. There is no greater pride than to see our Rocketeers watch students recite digits of Pi with baited breath, astonished by their classmates’ capacities to memorize and in gleeful delight when these students are then able to pi-e their math teachers and school leader. This year’s winners included both a kindergartener and first grader who could memorize over 90 digits after the decimal, and former school champions battling each other down to over 160 digits! It is an event that gives math-letes their due and pi its venerable status. That said, even Pi Day was overshadowed this year by March Math Madness.

When Cindy Bautista, our community organizer, secured tickets for our Rocketeers to watch an NCAA practice, I was excited to align this trip with our math focus area. March Madness is an easy win – it unites college talk with brags and fast alliances. During our Indoor Launches, we shone some love on statisticians who are among the privileged few with court-side access to major sporting events. With the full school, we went through a general breakdown of how brackets work and with our fourth and fifth graders, they analyzed statistical data to make decisions as to which teams would most likely move to the next round and onto the final win. Given the West divisional round was happening in San Jose, I had them pay closer attention to these teams, wanting them to get excited about which teams they may end up watching in practice on March 22nd. With round to round match-ups and analysis, the Gonzaga Bulldogs pulled ahead as the instant favorite at Si Se Puede.

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Rocketeers from San Jose schools attended the practice

During the first round, we provided highlights and scores throughout the day. Gonzaga managed to hold on even as these initial rounds saw the demise of several top seeded teams. Our Rocketeers would be able to see their stars in practice on March 22nd, so in preparation they made posters to root for their teams. I told them not to underestimate their power to motivate these players even in practice. They rolled up their posters, tucked them under their arms, and headed to the SAP Center in San Jose.

After two hours of watching West Virginia and Xavier practice, they were restless for Gonzaga’s arrival, eager to cheer on their favorite. And cheer they did. They went wild for the players, the cheerleaders, and their mascot, Spike. All their pent-up energy was released, and it caught the whole arena off-guard. The Arena cam descended on our Rocketeers and Gonzaga reporters, who had flown in that day from earlier rounds in Salt Lake, rushed over to find out why students from San Jose had such a fervor for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It was unbelievable to see our Rocketeers’ passion realized and know that it was as a direct result of their bracket analysis.

As many Rocketeers predicted, Gonzaga made it to the Finals on Monday April 3rd. Although we didn’t host a watch party, I know that there were Rocketeers across East San Jose who stayed up to cheer for their Bulldogs. They would have nudged their parents when Spike came into view, and proudly pulled out their scraps of paper with his autograph.

March was an incredible month to make the beauty of math come alive for our students. Many of our Rocketeers no doubt hope to one day shoot the game winning half-court shot while sporting their Bulldogs jersey. I’d like to also believe that there are a few who will one day file into the stadium and take their reserved seats, ready to provide the statistical analysis that could impact the outcome of the game. March Madness can easily be March math-ness or Math madness if we try.

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Rocketeers get autographs from Spike the bulldog


Heidy Shinn hails from the East Coast as a fierce Red Sox and Patriots fan. Just as fierce is her belief that all students deserve a right to the best education possible. Heidy is the principal of Rocketship Si Se Puede, and this year, she is also teaching 5th grade math. Prior to Rocketship, Heidy has spent fifteen years in teaching and administration at several high performing charter schools across the country. This includes KIPP Heartwood Academy, down the street from Si Se Puede. Heidy loves that her former students are both graduating college and coming back to serve – at her school and around the community.

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