Sunday, March 25, 2012

Inspiring Women: Maria Droujkova: Mathemagician

I met Maria two years ago at ScienceOnline2010. I’m not a mathematician myself (although my father is,) and I’ve never taken any advanced math courses, but more on that another time. At the time I was a librarian for a scientific research institute and attracted to the event because of its emphasis on (and having learned about it through) social media. Anyhow, Maria and I struck up a conversation and I learned about her work which you can get glimpses of on her website and blog. Since my inclination is finding information, I answered some questions she posted to Twitter, and Maria eventually invited me to join her math social bookmarking group.

Maria describes the purpose of Natural Math from her teaching and learning practice and philosophy:

“We need to participate and engage babies and kids in math-rich, meaningful human endeavors that are useful, beautiful and fun. From the earliest time, kids should see themselves as co-creators of mathematics. The richness of the mathematical culture has to become available and accessible in a wide variety of communities, in many beautiful and meaningful forms.”

Toward these ends, Maria created “communities of practice,” through math clubs, videos, the Math Future Wiki (which hosts frequent online events with innovators in math study and teaching.) And consider Maria’s ideas on curriculum as well as her inspired crowdfunding endeavor to create math objects for young children, Moebius Noodles.

A recent story Maria co-wrote with Sarah Berenson emphasizes her concerns with encouraging girls to pursue math and science in school and beyond, focusing on the Girls on Track summer camp resulting from a partnership between several North Carolina colleges and schools and entering into its second decade. “Inspired by the girls, we are working on an integrated model connecting the academic track point of view with personal and community significance of mathematics,” the authors report.

Recently, Maria directed her energies towards math learning games and in recent presentations here and here discusses “helping everybody - millions of kids, parents, teachers - design or remix their own games,” through communities of practice, social networks, and taxonomies.

For her advocacy of math and children’s natural learning and creativity, her effective use of technology and social media, and her entrepreneurial spirit, it is no wonder that one of her fellow travellers called Maria “the Maven of Math World online,” and I heartily agree.

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