Making Math Fun Again: Dead Poets Society Breathes Life into Math at Frostburg State

Background:

It can be challenging to find a compelling story about your blue chip majors like mathematics and one academic club at Frostburg State puts a face to numbers.

We tend to think of majors like mathematics in a vacuum, almost how your mother would ask, “Well, what are you going to do with an English degree?” Someone ignorant, partially incredulous. These majors are typically coupled with another major, especially for future teachers and engineers.

Mathematics faculty brought a chapter of the Dead Poets Society to Frostburg State University after hearing about it at a conference. The club shows that something as complex and difficult for most of us can be socially invigorating and inspiring. Plus, the club atmosphere is great about breaking down barriers.

As Assistant Professor of Mathematics Justin Dunmyre explains, the movie “Dead Poets Society” isn’t exclusively about poetry — it’s about finding your passion. And that’s what this club does, but with a math bent. (I still have to watch this classic, which I’m ashamed to say because I am a big Robin Williams fan.)

It was critical that this story included video storytelling to show how happy and engaging the students are with the faculty, puzzles and yes, Rock Band —a story with images showing much more than students quixotically inspecting a worksheet.

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics
Originally Published: 02/22/2017

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics

Oh Captain! My captain! Rise up and hear the excitement over mathematics among friends.

You can hear the laughter and debate each Monday coming from Room 247 in the Gira Center for Communications and Information Technology. That’s where a new academic club at Frostburg State University called the Dead Poets Society seeks to make math a social experience. Brain teasers, puzzles and even the video game Rock Band are all part of the equation that solves for fun.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Justin Dunmyre says the club shares its name with the movie starring Robin Williams. Math plays a storytelling role in the movie.

The move is about celebrating one’s passion, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Dunmyre says.

Mathematics major Sarah Sparks of Sykesville says the club helped her feel more connected with the campus as a transfer student coming from Carroll Community College.

I really didn’t know anybody. I really didn’t have any friends. Coming to the math game nights that we were having at the time, it got me interacting with other people in my math classes and got me interacting with other people in general,” Sparks says. “I think it’s really important to kind of take a break from the math that’s stressing you out during the semester and doing math that’s just for fun.”

Mechanical engineering major Demetrick McDonald of Randallstown says the puzzles and math problems help him reset during a grinding semester.

“Doing these challenges and these brain teasers are just a way to distract my mind, but it’s a constructive distraction,” McDonald says. “It’s a distraction from everything that I am doing, but it’s constructive in the sense that I’m using my brain to still answer questions and different things, not to mention I get to sit down and have time with all my friends and hang out and crack jokes.”

Frostburg State started its own chapter in the 2016 fall semester. The initial chapter started at Berry College in Georgia. Dunmyre describes the club as an underground national movement.

The club was created as a service of the Department of Mathematics, a way for students to connect with faculty and their peers. Dunmyre attends each meeting, along with the department chair, Associate Professor Dr. Marc Michael, and Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Dumnich.

“I found out about it at the National Meeting of Mathematicians, and it sounded like a really good way of just building a math community,” Dunmyre says.

Dead Poets Society also kills the notion that math is not solved aloud.

“The hardest problems require communication between people,” Dunmyre says. “Just getting a community together is really important.”

The puzzles and questions cater to a variety of levels and majors. One night could feature a brief worksheet of questions testing math and logic. Another night might feature matchstick puzzles or the game Knights and Knaves. When students really need a break from brain teasers, they get together to play Rock Band, a video game, one night each month.

“The idea by doing different activities is to get lots of different people interested and involved – not just people who are excited about math,” Sparks says. “It’s just another way for people to socially interact and kind of let loose in this environment where we get to interact with each other.”

The Dead Poets Society at FSU is open to any student and features a diverse mix of majors with puzzles and questions for all levels. Meetings are held at 5 p.m. each Monday in Gira Center Room 245.

For more information about the Dead Poets Society, contact Justin Dunmyre at jrdunmyre@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

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