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Love and positivity, multiplied

How a math project on exponential growth spread joy throughout a middle school

Lowell — The walls, lockers and doorways at Lowell Middle School are adorned with paper hearts handwritten with messages like, “You’re beautiful”, “You put the A in amazing”, and “Your smile lights up the room.”

The hearts aren’t just pretty art, but an uplifting experiment that showed students how love and positivity can grow exponentially — and taught the math concept behind that as well.

Forty-three algebra students each made two Valentines to give to fellow students who had, in turn, received instructions to pay it forward by creating two more Valentines. The result: almost 1,400 Valentines, an air of excitement and lots of smiles building-wide.

Eighth-grader Ally Hollern enjoyed seeing the project result in happiness

“We were able to start with something small — with just two classes —  and then make it a schoolwide thing,” said eighth-grader Ally Hollern.

“It was really cool how it all worked out so well,” added eighth-grader Finn Bredin. “It’s a really unique idea as well.”

Math teacher Vickie Patrick created the exercise, called “Share the Love,” to teach the algebraic concept of exponential growth in a visual way. 

“Those functions are kind of hard to imagine when students don’t have a lot of previous experience with it,” she said.

She thought of the 2000 movie, “Pay it Forward” in which a random act of kindness spreads throughout the world. 

“I thought I’d like to try something like that — that would be really visual for my students to see happening in their world.” 

Patrick set things in motion by giving each of her algebra students a Valentine: “I wanted them to see things growing … But I wanted them to be the agents of change. I wanted them to be the people making it happen — not just me.”

Soon students were taping Valentines, unsigned, on lockers throughout the building. The power of exponential growth quickly became evident as students followed the rule to create and share two more.

“Each day, you could see it growing — sometimes hour by hour,” Patrick said.

One Simple Message

Patrick’s original students made sure every student in all grades received a Valentine, and — going the extra mile — they peppered teachers’ doors with affirmations as well. They even created a list of positive messages for students to use on their paper hearts. (Teachers checked each Valentine message before it was delivered to ensure things stayed positive.)

‘I wanted (students) to be the agents of change. I wanted them to be the people making it happen — not just me.’

— math teacher Vickie Patrick

The math was not forgotten in the flurry of love and friendship, of course. Students in the algebra classes calculated the exponential function by considering different variables and what they were controlling. They also explored how long it would take for all lockers to be covered.

They started the project five days before Valentine’s Day, projecting that by the fourth or fifth day, all lockers would have a Valentine.

“We started on a Wednesday and by the end of the day Friday, all the lockers were covered and we were finding more spaces: the gym, the hallway, teachers’ door,” Patrick said.

Eighth-grader Maddie Hessler said she witnessed many students’ joy when they received a Valentine.

“I thought the idea was amazing and I think everyone else enjoyed it a lot,” she said. “I heard a lot of other people talking about how one simple message can go many different ways. I think everyone at least had one smile or two … It was a very popular project!”

The classes have already brainstormed how to share the love even more by bringing Valentines to other Lowell schools. 

Patrick is expanding the math piece as well, with plans to next year collect data and add to a spreadsheet to compare to their mathematical model.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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