The Rise of Moonlight Math
Fresh Ideas + Parent Involvement - Rote Activities + A Slumber Party = A Beloved Ravenscroft Tradition
by David Klein | Back to Table of Contents
It all started in 1985. Then-Lower School Director Carol Miedema was interested in invigorating the math curriculum when she heard about Math Around the Clock, a program math consultant Jeane Joyner had developed at another school that featured a day of math-related activities complete with movies, singing and a slumber party. Miedema loved the idea.
“We wanted to think of ways to make math come alive, especially for girls,” said Miedema, who encouraged teachers Joyce Parker, Carolyn Everett and Mary Catherine Phelps to create a similar night of math fun for their third-graders. The team began developing a curriculum and met with parents to get them involved, brainstorming the ways math was useful to them at home and at work.
One early feature of Moonlight Math made it especially enticing to the school’s third-graders: the prospect of spending the night at school.
“The excitement of sleeping at school was killing me in the day leading up to it,” said Amy Bell Stritzel ’97.
“Spending the night at school was definitely the best part. It felt so weird and special to be there after hours,” added Ellen Mann O’Connor ’98.
After Friday classes, students went home and returned to school in the early evening — sleeping bags, pillows and toothbrushes in tow — and attended four or five self-selected workshops that reflected the diversity and ingenuity of parent organizers. They made small rockets or paper airplanes and then measured the distance and height of their flights. They weighed and measured Beanie Babies, the toy craze of the moment. A mini-Math Olympics took place in the gym.
Not surprisingly, the most popular activities involved food. Students explored units of measurement and fractions by baking cookies and making smoothies, fruit pizza and ice cream.
“My mom and Draughn Bishop Whitehead Arbona ’96’s mom manned the ice cream section,” Alex Hopkins Rudder ’96 remembered. “Her awesome mom even made matching ice cream aprons for them to wear with little ice cream cones on them. That was the best experience. So fun to spend the night and actually look at math in a fun way.”
After parent guides made their exit, students enjoyed a snack and a movie. Then it was bedtime, with girls and boys occupying separate spaces. Phelps presided over her charges from the loft in her classroom, knowing it would take some time before the girls finally settled down. “I don’t remember actually going to sleep,” recalled Elizabeth Warren Hamilton ’97.
In the morning, Miedema led a group of early risers on a jog around the still-locked school. (They measured the distance they ran, so there was morning math as well.)
Participants remember Moonlight Math with fondness. Katie Pressel Gillespie ’95, who took part in the inaugural event and has served as a parent volunteer for her sons’ Moonlight Math nights, remembers it as a true eye-opener. “It was the first time we got the idea that math was more than memorizing number facts,” she said.
Even though it’s no longer an overnight event, Moonlight Math remains a beloved tradition that continues to spark excitement among Lower School students. That’s no surprise to the teachers who first brought it to life.
“Every year there were children who spontaneously remarked, ‘This was the best night of my life!’” said Phelps. “We knew we had started something memorable.”
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Enjoy photos from 2019’s Moonlight Math!
Lower School faculty Mary Catherine Phelps, Carol, Miedema, Carolyn Everett and Joyce Parker.
Amy Bell Stritzel ’97 and Elizabeth Warren Hamilton ’97, shown in their third-grade class photo (first row, first and third from left), have fond memories of Moonlight Math.
Third-graders learn about money during an activity captured in the 1988 yearbook.