Sunday, October 16, 2011

How Does Math Help Us To Understand the World Around Us?

It is a rainy Sunday in the fall and football is on two televisions and a radio in my house.  Football is a game of probabilities, averages and percentages.  Just spend a few minutes listening to the announcers talking about quarterback ratings, first down successes, field goal distances and the wisdom of kicking to Devin Hester who holds an NFL record for punt returns and you will hear all kinds of statistics.  I spent time this past week at the OCTM State Math Conference.  I learned that my brain can only view 5, maybe six objects in a group and know how many are present without actually counting them or breaking them into smaller groups.  I tried that out while watching the football game and it is true!  I could not just know how many men were on the field, there were more than 6 and I had to count them.  Brain researchers have studied how our brains learn math and this research has been used to help write the new Common Core Math Standards.

Students learn math best when they can make a connection to the world around them.  As teachers, we need to find new ways to help students experience mathematics.  Our focus has been that we are all teachers of reading and writing - but what if we also were all teachers of math?  Social Studies lessons can include population statistics, financial literacy, using maps to teach scale, calculating area, interpreting graphs  and reading about mathematical ideas within the context of history.  There are many children's books that focus on math concepts. English classes focusing on writing supporting details can include lessons in how to write a specific proof, lessons on how to find key details in a word problem, and how patterns can become poetry. Persuasive writing can include the use of averages, percentages and other statistics to help prove a point.  Science and math are traditionally paired. Lessons designed to  help students to  really understand how to measure distances in space, how to analyze real data they collect as a group, how to find math in the natural world and how to use math to make decisions on energy usage are all ways to help make meaningful connections to mathematics.  Music and Art are the creative extension of math.  Pitch, note length, rhythms, angles, color value, perspective all are dependent on mathematical concepts.  Our society has encouraged the idea that it is ok to not be good in math.  We have allowed students to opt out of more challenging math simply because we as adults may not have felt we were good at math.  My challenge to you this week is to see how you can incorporate mathematical ideas appropriate for your grade level into your other lessons.  Can you find real world examples...better yet, can your students think of real world examples of math around them?

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