Schwab alumni grant recipient reducing math anxiety through game play

Dec 14, 2017 — LaShaunda Malone ‘97 recently was awarded the Lori Ann Schwab ‘95 Alumni Grant to put on a math-themed Family Game Night at Stonebrook Montessori School in Cleveland.

LaShaunda Malone ’97
   LaShaunda Malone ’97

Malone said playing games can help parents overcome their own math anxiety or intimidation in a fun environment.

“Putting people into a situation where they are more comfortable is important because then they can pass joy related to math onto their children,” Malone said.

Schwab was committed to making the world a better place by helping others. Her life was cut short by a sudden illness while she was studying in London in 1994. The Lori Ann Schwab ‘95 Alumni Grant recognizes the ongoing community service of Grinnellians who were at the College with Schwab.

Malone lived across the hall from Schwab during Malone’s first year at Grinnell on the second floor of Haines Hall.

“As a neighbor, I would see Lori’s glowing smile each morning,” Malone said. “I think this project is something Lori would have approved of. She would have liked the fact that it was an opportunity to help kids and make them more resilient. She would have found joy in this project. I am glad we are bringing families together in her memory. ”

Malone works as a data/project manager in clinical research studies at a university in Cleveland. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Grinnell College in political science before earning a Master of Science in public health.

While some Montessori schools have a reputation for being private and costly, Stonebrook is a public charter school that is accessible to families of all incomes, Malone said. Malone’s 4-year-old son attends the school.

“Stonebrook wants to demonstrate that Montessori education can work in public schools and communities,” she said.

In a neighborhood where 63 percent of households have an annual household income of $29,000 or below, families may not have access to high quality games that promote mathematics, number sense, and other skills, Malone said. The idea behind Family Game Night is to empower parents to promote learning of mathematics through game play.

“I was looking for ways to help parents,” Malone said. “A lot of people have been taught in a way that brought about math anxiety. Some people are intimidated by math. Game play offers a lot of benefits.”

The importance of math learning hit home for Malone after reading a 2001 book called Radical Equations, co-authored by Robert Moses, who helped fight for civil rights and register voters in Mississippi during the 1960s and was a lead organizer in the 1964 Freedom Summer.

“The most urgent social issue affecting poor people and people of color is economic access,” Moses wrote in the book. “In today’s world, economic access and full citizenship depend crucially on math and science literacy. The absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout the country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered black voters in Mississippi was in 1961.”

Society tends to teach children that only certain people are good at math, which is untrue, according to research by Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler, Malone said. That’s why it’s important to communicate with children early. 

“I agree with Dr. Boaler and others that as a society, we can’t afford to have that attitude,” she said. “We need the democratization of math literacy and the U.S. democracy needs math literate citizens. As highlighted in the work of Cathy O’Neil in her 2016 book Weapons of Math Destruction, more people’s lives are being controlled by mathematical models from who gets a mortgage to personality tests for employment. Many people affected by these models don’t know the models exist and are not aware of how their lives are impacted.”

Family Game Night will take place early next year at Stonebrook. Activities will include various Peaceable Kingdom cooperative games, Richard Scarry’s Busytown game where children can find hidden pictures on the game board and Orchard Bus Stop, which incorporates adding and subtracting as players fill up their buses with passengers.