Miguel Jaramillo was puzzled.
"They said it was the easiest," he said, grumbling to himself as he tried to remove a small metal ring intertwined in a mesh of metallic rods and shapes. Everyone at his table managed to untangle their metal ring; he was the odd man out. "I think it was a trick," he concluded.
For three hours Thursday night, basic skills instructors from the Community Education department, Math Department faculty and Hancock College's Math Lab transformed a room in the Santa Maria student center into a Math Mardi Gras festival filled with myriad math games and activities.
While Jaramillo continued to work through his puzzle, Jacqueline Rojas started up another game of cards at a nearby table. Instead of dealing a hand of poker or blackjack, she was setting up a game you wouldn't normally find in a casino.
"We have different games," Rojas said, explaining the table she had set up in front of her. "This is a regular deck of cards, but with it, you can practice basic math — you can add, subtract, multiply, divide and learn the absolute value of the numbers."
Geared toward students enrolled in basic skills and GED classes, Tino Aleman, one of the event's organizers, said nontraditional ways of learning help students engage with difficult subjects.
"My students were struggling with math so I figured we could use the games they know to learn math," said Aleman, who serves as the GED test preparation instructor for the Community Education Department. "Students sometimes need to learn in different ways. People work, then come to night classes so I try to keep it engaging — the games do a good job of doing that."
"We just try to make it fun," he added. "They're learning. They like it, and they share the games with their family. They're teaching other people to play the games which, in turn, helps them learn better."
Aleman was right — neither Jaramillo nor Rojas were alone at Thursday night's event; both brought family members and relatives to learn math and enjoy the games.
"I want him to be an engineer," Jaramillo said, pointing to his grandson, Isaiah. "I brought him here so he can learn, too."
Santiago Rojas, 10, said he routinely comes to class with his mother, Jacqueline Rojas. Perched over a board game, Santiago said he sometimes pays attention to his mother's lessons so he can understand math when he gets older.
"I think learning things before you need to would work out," he said. "Once you do, it'll be a lot easier."