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College of Education and Human Development at The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Community Service

ATE informal learning club draws from ancient roots

Each week, small groups of children gather after school at two local elementary schools and a leadership center. The goal is to learn about math; but this is not just any ordinary math group.

Each student is given a Nepohualtzitzin (neh-poe-wault-zeetzeen) – an abacus-like tool used for calculations thousands of years ago by ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Mayan and Nahua societies. The students must then move the corn counters on the Nepohualtzitzin to represent a number, sometimes in the millions or billions, or perform a basic mathematical function, such as adding or subtracting.

Although it appears to be simple, the Nepohualtzitzin is actually complex, as are the calculations that can be done using the tool.

“If you break up with word Neophualtzitzin, it translates to ‘ne,’ or the person, ‘pohual,’ or to count, and ‘tzitzin,’ or to transcend,” said María Elena Rodríguez, Academy for Teacher Excellence (ATE) education specialist. “The whole point of the Neophualtzitzin is for the person to recognize the importance and symbolism of numbers and counting. Numbers are all around our universe and our lives. Therefore, the person who comes to recognize the importance of numbers and their symbolism transcends.”

The Neophualtzitzin Ethnomathematics Project is the newest of ATE’s informal learning clubs and began at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. Rodríguez, Karina Lares, ATE education specialist, and several UTSA students work with children to teach them how to count and perform calculations using the Neophualtzitzin.

“We start off with the basics where the children are learning the structure of the Neophualtzitzin, the place value system, and how to count,” said Rodríguez. “Then we move on to addition and subtraction. You can do multiplication, division, square root, and even algebra on the Neophualtzitzin. It looks simple, but what it does and how it calculates is very advanced.”

The clubs, which are currently offered at Henry B. Gonzalez Elementary School and Las Palmas Elementary School in the Edgewood Independent School District, and the West Side Girl Scout Leadership Center, serve children from kindergarten through fifth grade. The goal of the club is to prepare the children to become academically ready for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“We just want them to be very excited about math,” said Rodríguez. “We want the children to know that they are capable of anything in any of the STEM areas.”

But the club, she said, is more than just mathematics. The children also learn about dance, music, and games that relate to both the mathematics concepts they have learned as well as Mesoamerican culture.

“The students are learning Ethnomathematics,” said Lares. “So we’re not only teaching the children mathematics, but also teaching them about culture and how to live in communal harmony. We want the students to learn that it’s not just about yourself, but about sharing the knowledge with others in the community.”

The Neophualtzitzin Ethnomathematics Project was inspired by the work of Everardo Lara González, author of Matemática y Simbolismo en la Danza Autóctona de México, or Mathematics and Symbolism in Mexico’s Native Dance. In 2006, several members of ATE, including Rodríguez, studied under González and brought back their knowledge of the Neophualtzitzin to ATE. These trainees, Rodríguez said, have since developed the training needed to work with the children in this new informal learning club.

We wanted to share with others the knowledge and understanding about this mathematical way of thinking,” said Rodríguez. “We wanted to do it in an informal learning club because in these clubs, more of this information can be shared with children in a fun, exciting way. So far, everyone loves it.”

In addition to their plans to add a fourth club site, ATE is also working to expand the club to include training for parents.

Janet Scott


"In the COEHD, we strive for excellence in our teacher education program. The quality of teachers matters a great deal. Excellent teachers make learning come to life. Excellent teachers inspire. Excellent teachers influence the futures of their students. Excellence is the goal because anything less would be dishonest."

Janet Scott
Director of Student Teaching

UTSA Center for the Well-Being of Military Families provides community services

The UTSA Center for the Well-Being of Military Children and Families in the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD), which opened earlier this year, is moving forward on several initiatives that will provide support to military families in the San Antonio area, as well as the educators who teach children from these families.

Often faced with many transitions because of deployments or moves, children in military families have special needs when it comes to curriculum and instruction, says Mercedes Zamudio, director of the center. Because San Antonio has such a large military community, the center will play a key role in meeting needs within the area.

“The military has its own unique culture, and San Antonio is known as Military City, USA,” Zamudio said. “The military contributes greatly to our San Antonio culture and our economy, so we really want to do what we can to help our military children and families thrive and assist them with all the transitions that they go through on a daily basis.”

“The military contributes greatly to our San Antonio culture and our economy, so we really want to do what we can to help our military children and families thrive and assist them with all the transitions that they go through on a daily basis.”

Some of the challenges children in military families face include differences in curriculum after moves, difficulty leaving friends, and facing separation from their parents during deployments. All of these things can affect children’s performance in school. The center trains students in the UTSA COEHD to develop curriculum and best practices for this population of students.

The center has created partnerships between the COEHD, the San Antonio military community, local agencies, organizations and institutions. Additionally, it continues to work closely with local school districts.

The center, along with the COEHD Department of Counseling is placing student interns in school districts with large military populations. Student counselors develop support groups for students and offer individual counseling to students, as it is needed.

As UTSA advances toward Tier One recognition, the university continues to focus on several priorities, including community outreach. The center’s services align with that vision by partnering with these organizations to establish a clearinghouse within the community to address different needs.

Health Ambassadors

Health Ambassadors participate in Team Up Challenge event

The Health Ambassadors, a student organization from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), teamed up with the Spurs Sports and Entertainment’s Silver and Black Give Back to bring the Mobile Health Lab to the students of Wilson Elementary School’s Gardening Club.

Twenty students from the Gardening Club and five Health Ambassadors participated in the event, which was part of Silver and Black Gives Back’s Team Up Challenge, a service-based program that awards local students for their service and involvement in the community. The Wilson Elementary students were semifinalists in the Team Up Challenge for 2013-2014.

The event featured special guest San Antonio Spurs player, Matt Bonner, who joined the Team Up Challenge students aboard the Mobile Health Lab, a 38-foot customized mobile home operated by the College of Education and Human Development’s (COEHD) Department of Kinesiology, Health, and Nutrition.

The Health Ambassadors used the state-of-the-art equipment on board the lab to demonstrate how to accurately collect body measurements, such as blood pressure and heart rate. After the demonstrations, the Team Up Challenge students were able to use the equipment to take measurements of each other and Bonner.

“It was wonderful that the Team Up Challenge students learned how to measure blood pressure, heart rate, height and weight, and perform the measurements on Matt Bonner,” said Dr. Zenong Yin, professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Health, and Nutrition, faculty advisor for the Health Ambassadors, and director for the Mobile Health Lab. “It was a once in a lifetime event for the Wilson Elementary students and the Health Ambassadors.”

Health Ambassadors

Over the 2013-2014 school year, the Wilson Elementary Gardening Club worked to grow fresh, organic vegetables for the community. The school, which is part of San Antonio Independent School District, has many low-income families with limited access to fresh produce. The goal of the Health Ambassadors for the event was to use the lab’s equipment to show the Gardening Club how eating well and exercising help attribute to a healthy lifestyle.

“I thought it was really cool to be able to take what the students in the Gardening Club were learning about nutrition and bring them over to the Mobile Health Lab to talk to them about how their nutrition is going to affect things like their height and their weight,” said Garrett Kneese, president of the Health Ambassadors. “I hope that the students realize that there are resources out there that they can go to and get the screenings that are required for good health.”

This was the first time the Health Ambassadors had participated in a Team Up Challenge event. The organization’s goal is to provide underserved populations in San Antonio with quality health assessments

“I think that it’s great that the Health Ambassadors wanted to take on this challenge so quickly,” said Brandi Cuevas, Team Up Challenge scholar and graduate of COEHD. “I think this was a great opportunity for the Health Ambassadors to expand, to get the word out there, and get more people involved in the organization. Their mission statement is, ‘A community outreach,’ so in this way, the just reached out to not only the Wilson Elementary students and their families, but also everyone that the Spurs are going to touch.”

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