Fiesta Math Night: The Parent Perspective

Abstract: 

This research paper includes trends in the involvement of Hispanic parents in a school/university event held in area schools. The event that is specifically studied is Fiesta Math Night, due to the elements that set it apart from other school events. Fiesta Math Night (Noche de Matemáticas) is an event hosted in multiple area schools that promotes the development of math skills through games. The games are presented in a fiesta, or celebration, setting. Fiesta Math Night has been continuously happening during the fall semester of each year since 2007. 

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    This research paper includes trends in the involvement of Hispanic parents in a school/university event held in area schools. The event that is specifically studied is Fiesta Math Night, due to the elements that set it apart from other school events. Fiesta Math Night (Noche de Matemáticas) is an event hosted in multiple area schools that promotes the development of math skills through games. The games are presented in a fiesta, or celebration, setting. Fiesta Math Night has been continuously happening during the fall semester of each year since 2007. The research paper analyzes the responses of thirteen Hispanic parents who attended the event in the fall of 2012. The interviews were conducted in the parents’ native language (Spanish). The parents who participated in the interviews answered eleven questions that explored their opinions about the event, their experiences with mathematical games, and other questions that relate directly to Fiesta Math Night. The interviews were conducted in a one to two month span after Fiesta Math Night was hosted.

    Fiesta Math Night

    Fiesta Math Night is a University of North Texas (UNT) and an elementary school event where students from the UNT College of Education present interactive and engaging games. The games presented during Fiesta Math Night have different themes, which over the past three years have included Mayan culture, free enterprise (the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA), the Mexican Revolution/Independence, and others that relate directly to the primarily Hispanic population in the school. The event also engages pre-service teachers (PST), 85% of whom are White, suburban/rural women, with the Hispanic culture and community, the majority group that they will teach in the near future. The games are created and presented by pre-service teachers in their mathematics and social studies methods courses.  The pre-service teachers are “required to think about the gaming techniques and cultural awareness of the games” (Anderson, Olstowski, & Tunks, 2008). All games must align with state standards and include a vertical alignment from kindergarten level to sixth grade level. The cultural aspect of the games must reflect the Nine Universals of Culture (Cleveland, Craven, & Danfelser, 1979) and the Banks Levels of Multicultural Education (Banks & Banks, 2003). All of these requirements ensure that the school community will be presented with authentic, interactive, standardized, well-developed, and culturally relevant mathematics games. The games are designed so that the pre-service teachers may have high contact and interaction with the Hispanic families.

    On any given Fiesta Math Night, of which there have been 46 in the past six years, the community walks into a room where the games are set up. They are greeted with a welcoming and open environment filled with authentic, university-student-developed games. As soon as the families begin to arrive, players receive a card that is used to collect stickers from each game played throughout the night. When the game card is filled, students give the card to their teacher the next morning for a prize (to be determined by the teacher) or a PTA member, who enters the card in a drawing for board games, a homework pass, or computer time. The games are spread throughout the room: on tables, walls, or the floor. Each game is presented in dual languages, Spanish and English, and verbally introduced in either English or Spanish by the pre-service teacher, depending on his or her language capacity. The use of dual language is included with every game to ensure that Hispanic parents are able to understand the game and leave with new knowledge. Parents are encouraged to play with and help their children during the games. All games have the versatility to be played by any player, regardless of age, through the use of differentiated instructional methodology that the PSTs are learning in the social studies and mathematics methods classes.

    Theory

    Bourdieu (1986) developed Cultural Capital (CC) theory, which explores forms of knowledge, skills, and education that afford a person a higher status in society. The theory purports that attitudes and knowledge influence how successful a person will become in the current educational system. Cultural capital is obtained from generation to generation-through attitudes and knowledge. The attitude of society toward education and its purpose influences the way that parents, students, and other members of society become involved in school settings. Cultural Capacity exists in three different forms, including embodied state, objectified state, and finally institutionalized state. These three states are defined as follows:

    • Embodied State
      • The embodied state in CC is transmitted through the culture or cultivation of a person’s family. In this state of CC, parts of one’s personality can be acquired consciously or passively over time. This affects one’s personality in terms of attitude, self-presentation, and thought process.
    • Objectified State
      • The objectified state in CC focuses on physical objects and media, including writing, musical instruments, or a collection of objects. These objects and media must have an economic profit and a cultural value to the individual.
    • Institutionalized State
      • The institutionalized state in CC is a form of institutional recognition, including academic recognition and educational qualification. This state can be found in the labor force, since a person’s education and skills will determine his status in society.

    In the Cultural Capital theory, Fiesta Math Night falls into the institutionalized state because it is presented in schools and has academic purposes for both parents and students. However, the long-term goal of Fiesta Math Night is to change the way parents think about education and school events, which indirectly connects with the embodied state. If Fiesta Math Night has the ability to change the embodied state of parents, then the other two states will change and students will have a better opportunity to be academically successful.

    Esptein’s parental involvement framework (Epstein, 1995) is divided into six types of parent involvement that help teachers and parents develop a partnership to support students’ academic achievement. The framework provides a structure to determine the types of parental involvement currently observed, with the intent to encourage strong, consistent parent involvement in students’ academic programs.

    • Type 1: Parenting
      • The first type applies to the students’ families, who ensure their health and safety. This type also includes skills needed to prepare children for school, including the provision of positive home conditions to support the academic learning and behavior appropriate for the child’s grade level and age. The main duty of parents in Type 1 is to support the child as a student in the home.
    • Type 2: Communication
      • The second type of parent involvement is characterized by open, two-way communication between parents and teachers, ensuring that parents are aware of the children’s progress and school news. This can be done through parent teacher conferences, phone calls, letters, emails, and other forms of communication.
    • Type 3: Volunteering
      • The third type of parent involvement refers to parents volunteering at the school. Volunteering includes, but is not exclusive to: organizing, helping and supporting teachers and administrators during school events, and even simply attending school events.
    • Type 4: Learning at Home
      • The fourth type of parent involvement involves the teachers. The teachers provide information and support to students’ families as they help students at home with homework or other activities. This ensures that students reinforce concepts presented at school.
    • Type 5: Decision-Making
      • The fifth type of parent involvement is reached when parents become part of PTA/PTO, advisory council, or other type of decision-making group. This level of involvement ensures that the parents are advocates for students and the community.
    • Type 6: Collaborating with Community
      • The sixth type of parent involvement involves both the school personnel and parents, who seek community involvement in order to strengthen school programs and/or to increase students’ learning and development.

    Epstein’s levels of parent involvement are reached when the school and parents develop a partnership where both work together, rely on each other for support, and make the student the center of their efforts. “The research results are important because they indicate that caring communities can be built, on purpose; that they include families that might not become involved on their own; and that, by their own report, just about all families, students and teachers believe that partnerships are important for helping students succeed across the grade” (Epstein, 1995, p.13). According to Epstein’s levels of parent involvement, Fiesta Math Night falls in the highest level; parents, teacher, administrators, and the community work together for the same goal: academic success.

    The Culture Capital and Epstein’s levels of parent involvement play an important role in the ways that parents and schools interpret parent involvement. These two perspectives explore the multiple dimensions of parent involvement. They show how Culture Capital and Epstein’s levels of parent involvement relate to Fiesta Math Night in multiple ways. Fiesta Math Night is trying to reshape the way that Hispanic parents see school events. This idea falls under Culture Capital, since parents leave the event with positive thoughts and an open mind about other school events. The more that parents think positively of school events, the more they will grow in terms of Epstein’s levels of parent involvement.

    Research shows that parent involvement in school, when coupled with an emphasis on parental language and culture, fosters students’ growth and academic achievement (Christenson & Carlson, 2005; Arvizu, 1992; Bermudez & Marquez 1996; & Torres-Guzman, 1990). Parent involvement increases the likelihood of improving childhood academic success. Hispanic parents, like any other population, want their children to be successful in school. However, the issue of how to involve parents in the schooling process of their children in ways that empowers them and benefits the school serves as a challenge to both schools and parents.

    Methods

    Setting

    Two schools were used to conduct the study. School A and School B are highly populated by Hispanic students. According to the 2011-2012 AEIS reports, School A has a 65.4% population of Hispanic students, with School B at 52.4%. These schools also serve a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. The percentage of economically disadvantaged students is the same at both schools at 78.8%. Of the students who are economically disadvantaged, 68% of students at School A and 70% of students at School B are eligible for free lunch. The demographic of students that School A and School B serve are fairly similar to each other in their population numbers and economically disadvantaged students.

    Purpose

    The purpose of the study was to analyze the reasons that Hispanic parents attend Fiesta Math Night, but not other school events.

    Questions

    1. Why did Hispanic parents from two elementary schools attend a UNT/school community event, Fiesta Math Night?
    2. Why are these same Hispanic parents not attending other school events?

    Assumptions

    It was assumed that the Hispanic parents attended Fiesta Math Night for numerous reasons, including the welcoming Hispanic-centric environment, their interest in their children’s academic standing, and their general interest in becoming actively involved in school activities.

    Data Sources

    During the fall of 2012, parents from School A and School B were given a form at the Fiesta Math Night event. The form gave permission to the UNT research team to call them and ask for feedback about Fiesta Math Night. The number of forms that were returned after Fiesta Math Night ranged from twenty to twenty-five forms at each school. These forms were returned by both Hispanic and non-Hispanic parents. The parent information was then organized in a spreadsheet.

    At School A, the twenty parents who returned the form during Fiesta Math Night were called and asked if they could come to the school for a face--to-face interview about the event. From the twenty parents that were called, only eight parents were able to come to the school for the interviews. Since this research only studies Hispanic parent involvement, only three interviews were analyzed. However, all parents were given the same eleven questions about the event. School B decided to conduct phone interviews rather than face-to-face interviews due to the low turnout of face-to-face interviewees at school A. It was assumed that more parents would be able to answer the eleven questions, since the interviews were done in a more convenient way. At School B, from the twenty-five forms returned at Fiesta Math Night, only fifteen parents were able to complete the interview. From these fifteen interviews, only ten were considered due to the focus on Hispanic parent involvement. Both the interviews at School A and School B were recorded using the iPad Evernote application. Evernote is an application that allows file-sharing and recording between multiple devices, such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. Three Hispanic interviewers conducted all interviews, in both English and Spanish.

    The interview questions are listed below. They included both short-answer, such as the number of years attended Fiesta Math Night, as well as open-ended questions that gave parents the freedom to express their opinions and expand their thoughts about their involvement in the community event.

    1. How many years have you attended Fiesta Math Night?
    2. What was your impression of Fiesta Math Night?
    3. What games did you play that night with your child?
    4. Have you attended any other school functions this year?
    5. How was Fiesta Math Night different or similar to other school events?
    6. Are you a parent volunteer?
    7. How does your attendance to Fiesta Math Night affect your decision to attend other school events?
    8. If you could extend the Fiesta Math Night event to your home, possibly in forms of math games to play at home, would you welcome the opportunity?
    9. Do you have mathematics games in your home?
    10. Do you play these math games with your child?
    11. Can you share any other ideas about Fiesta Math Night?

    Data Analysis

    The analysis of the data required multiple steps. First, the audio data was transcribed verbatim. Second, the data was placed in spreadsheets by question. Third, each question was analyzed using a grounded approach that allowed categories inherent in the data to emerge, within the context of each question posed. Fourth, the categories were analyzed for trends across questions. Finally, results of the findings were determined.

    Results: General Categories

    Parent involvement has been identified as an important element in students’ academic success. Epstein’s Framework of Parental Involvement describes the types of parents who participate in school activities, implicating a hierarchy of engagement. Parent involvement in the Fiesta Math Night is at the highest level, Collaboration, as parents seek opportunities to strengthen their connections to the school in order to increase student learning in mathematics. Data analysis revealed that several components inherent in Fiesta Math Night helped parents feel welcome and excited. The event provided an atmosphere that persuaded parents and students to give school events like Fiesta Math Night an opportunity. The parents at both schools noted the different components of Fiesta Math Night, relative to other events, during their interviews. Approximately 80% of parents mentioned differences that make them return each year: the culture, the games, children’s interests, the uniqueness of the event, interpersonal interactions, the environment and academic connections, the events’ themes, , and the informality of the event. Fiesta Math Night is increasing the first form of CC, which is Embodied State, by increasing parents’ positive thoughts of school events. These parents then passively transmit those thoughts to their children. When parents communicate the importance of the education, their children will be more likely to take an interest in their academics, which will close the academic gap between the Hispanic population and the rest of the community. Below is a discussion of the categories that emerged across all questions and respondents.

    Culture

    In both schools, more than 50% of the student population is Hispanic. Schools considered culture when planning this event, and the games were designed with the culture at the center of the event. The intent was to capture the attention of both parents and students. Data showed that many of the parents in the study spoke only Spanish. In Hispanic families, culture is present every day in language, behavior, history, and other elements. During Fiesta Math Night, parents are greeted with cultural aspects in the games, in the game station, and throughout the game executions. A parent in School B mentioned, “When I walked up to the first game, the first thing I noticed were the rules. They were written in Spanish! Then, I went to the next game, and the same thing happened. This made me extremely happy because I have a difficult time understanding English and now I would be able to help my kindergarten daughter.” This type of response was heard throughout the thirteen interviews. Language plays an important role in the way that parents feel in any environment. When parents are presented a language barrier, they are more likely to feel awkward and less helpful, which later affects their participation in school events. If schools want Hispanic parents to get involved, promotions, school events, and other small details require use of the population’s native language.

    Games

    The games presented during Fiesta Math Night are the center of the event, and the overall theme and games are different every year. Every year, parents are greeted with new PSTs, a new theme, and of course, new games, which eventually intrigue parents’ curiosity. The annual game changes are only one element of the games that parents seemed to enjoy; parents return every year due to the interactive aspect of the games. A parent from School A expressed, “Fiesta Math Night is active, captured my son’s attention, and is fun, but the most important aspect of the night is very simple: they learn!” The games presented during Fiesta Math Night give a lot of new knowledge about the cultural and mathematical aspect of the yearly theme, and parents and students leave with this knowledge.

    Children’s Interest

    Schools always face the challenge of having parents become more involved in school activities and in the classrooms. However, their solution to increase the amount of parent involvement involves sitting in the classrooms five days a week, meaning that the students are the solution to bring parents into the schools. When parents were interviewed about their reasons for attending Fiesta Math Night, 84% said, “My child really wanted to me to go.” If students are interested in a school event, then they will persuade their parents to attend. The interests of Hispanic students are sparked through the games and the new information they will receive that night, but they also understand that, during Fiesta Math Night, their parents will be provided with text in Spanish. The increased involvement of Hispanic parents in school events necessitates a spark of students’ interest in the school event. These responses suggest that Hispanic parents are keenly interested in supporting their students’ academic success. Later, students form an emotional connection with their parents while they are having fun.

    Event’s Uniqueness

    “Fiesta Math Night celebrates the students’ mind.” This was a statement made by a parent at School B. It summarizes the concepts of Fiesta Math Night perfectly and illustrates the reason that the event was created by Dr. Jeanne Tunks, teachers, and principals in Denton ISD Title I schools. Fiesta Math Night is literally a fiesta (party) celebrated through unique math games, which can never be purchased at local stores. The uniqueness and authenticity of the games and event are the reasons that students and parents return each year with enthusiastic faces and attitudes. A veteran Fiesta Math Night attendee mentions how impressed she is every year with the games made by pre-service teachers. “The whole event is memorable,” said a parent at School A. When asked why, she answered, “The games are incredible, and my children fall in love with the games every year.” The elements of Fiesta Math Night are not predictable or determined by a committee, but are created by pre-service teachers who conjoin social and mathematical concepts about the theme. An example is the theme, Maya 2012, in which PSTs produced games that included: measuring the distances between edifices at Tikal, Mayan trading, Mayan mosaic, and Mayan number systems as card, board, and floor games that challenged students and parents to engage in deciphering Mayan number systems and real Mayan settings. The uniqueness of Fiesta Math Night is simple; it links the UNT College of Education community and the district community to create an event that is engaging and enjoyable for Hispanic parents and students.

    Results: Specific Questions

    To examine trends in questions asked and responses provided, all questions and answers were organized into a spreadsheet. Each question was assigned a column and each parent a row. An analysis of the first question, which asked how many years parents had attended Fiesta Math Night, showed that on average, parents had attended at least three years. In response to how many other school events that the parents attended, 61.53% attended three school events, one of which being Fiesta Math Night. When the parents were asked about the difference between Fiesta Math Night and other school events, the responses were similar: they cited the environment. Parents commented on how formal and intimidating some school functions are especially because of the language barriers. All of the parents that were interviewed had some basic knowledge of English; however, they indicated that they found it difficult to express themselves in English. Some parents even commented on how their children help them understand some of the information that is provided in English from the school.

    When parents were asked how attending Fiesta Math Night affected their decisions to attend other school events, 61% said they would attend school events as long as their child had some type of learning benefit. This implies that Hispanic parents are highly interested in their children learning, and events like Fiesta Math Night serve as a way for them to monitor their child’s learning in a fun and interactive setting.

    A surprising result was the parents’ reason for attending Fiesta Math Night. 84% of the parents answered that their children asked and convinced them to attend. The main reason that the parents and students return each year is simple; the students are highly interested in Fiesta Math Night. Some parents responded that they asked for the day off from work to fulfill their child’s request; they said that education is important to them, and they will attend an event like this if it will help their child.

    Conclusion

    It can be concluded from the Hispanic parents’ responses that Fiesta Math Night is a family tradition in their households, and both parents and students are interested in the topics presented during the event. Fiesta Math Night fills a gap that other events are missing, which involves family bonding through academics. Even though students and parents may not realize it, they learn from the moment they walk in to the event to the moment they walk out. Fiesta Math Night is an hour and a half of fun and knowledge through simple games developed by pre-service teachers. Fiesta Math Night also connects the local university and local schools, which covers a Type 6 on Esptein’s framework of parental involvement. If these types of events continue in Title I schools, the schools have the potential to become beautiful, enriched learning environments for all students and parents.

    Recommendations

    Workshops

    When parents were asked if they play math games with their child, 100% said that they lacked mathematical games at home. However, when asked if they would be open to the opportunity of extending Fiesta Math Night to their homes in forms of math games, 100% of parents answered yes. This implies that parents would welcome and value the provision of game workshops. These game workshops would be held at a convenient time for the parents and would also be given in the parents’ native language. The workshop would occur in an informal setting, where parents would have the opportunity to develop games for their children or the school community. Giving the parents an opportunity to create their own games would also give them the opportunity to let their individual talents shine. Providing workshops would also facilitate mathematical games for the Hispanic parents and students in their homes. Teachers, administrators, and other school staff would lead parents to Type 4 in the Epstein Framework, which gives parents the correct tools to support, encourage, and help students at home by simply using the math games. This would also give the school community respect and admiration for the parents’ efforts.

    Providing game workshops could also lead to a parent/teacher-led Fiesta Math Night at the school. During this event, parents would have an opportunity to let their children and other students see their work. This would lead them to Type 5 in the Epstein Framework, due to the decision-making and investment in the ownership of the school. It would also lead parents to feel like an asset to the school.

    Extending Fiesta Math Night into the Hispanic household could serve as an effective tool to reinforce the mathematical concepts inherent in the games. This extension of Fiesta Math Night into the home would allow parents to leave with one of the games presented, so that the game may become an effective tool for supporting mathematics learning at home. Parents should be told the purpose of the games in detail, and leaders should also log the amount of time that parents play the Fiesta Math Night game with the children. This will help clarify the effectiveness of mathematical games in a home setting. In addition, parents and teachers may realize the potential of increased parent involvement through the extension of the games into the home

    Conclusion

    The results of this study indicate that Fiesta Math Night has been instrumental in engaging Hispanic parents in Title I schools, which have high populations of Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. This event opens up doors for Hispanic parents to walk into the schools without feeling threatened or out of place. Fiesta Math Night is the first step in Hispanic parents’ involvement in school activities and opens free and comfortable communication with their children in an academic setting. Once parents have reached the Epstein’s third type of parent involvement they will keep climbing up the hierarchy until they have reached the highest level. By attending Fiesta Math Night, parents are encouraged to have conversations with their children about academics, specifically mathematics. All parents will gain cultural capital when they gain respect for their culture, race, language, ability, and teachers. According to Bourdieu (1983), the attitude of a society towards education and its purpose influences the way that parents, students, and other members of society become involved in school settings. This study of Fiesta Math Night demonstrates that Hispanic parents who attended the event found a welcoming attitude from the community and school. For these parents, their Cultural Capital was raised due to the responsiveness of the event to the culture of the parents and children. This research has demonstrated that the inclusion of parents’ heritages in school events will help increase their attendance and capture the attention of all school age students.

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