Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Math is...What Parents and Teachers Make It

My OAME 2016 Ignite speech, "Math is...What Parents and Teachers Make It," is here, in PDF form.

I think a lot about what math "is", and "is not". I am involved in professional learning for practicing teachers, I am a teacher myself, and, I have two young children.So it is that I have conversations like this, in my house.

I thought about just letting that drop but naw, teachers need to teach, so we explored it, with both boys. That's a pretty decent provisional definition of infinity for a 5 year old, but can we push his thinking further? I asked him "what's the biggest number you know?" He started with 12. I said that if I add one, I get 13. The play continued. I got Callum to write a 1 and a string of zeroes down, and showed him that you can always add another zero. He doesn't really know place value yet, but I was thinking that playing with ever bigger numbers would help him.

This is still a work in progress. It's also just one example of how you can model math talk at home. I really do think parents have enormous power to expose their kids to everyday math. Tackling infinity is not for everyone. The new resource Inspiring Your Child To Learn and Love Math has all kinds of practical activities parents can do with their kids, from cooking, to shopping, to all kinds of games and fun things you can do to get kids seeing that math is a normal, interesting, inspiring, and fun part of their lives.
And from the teacher''s side, I think that tweet says it all. We have such an enormous power to shape what mathematics IS, in students' minds. Is it disconnected topics, strands, and facts? Or is it a powerfully connected and interesting body of knowledge? Is it a way of thinking you only do in math class? Is it a subject where you can do powerful critical and creative thinking?

Do we expose our kids to both the awe-inspiring mathematical world, and, math used in the real world?

I hope so.

Here are some of Melissa Dean's (@Dean_of_math) amazing students' responses.

From Kindergarten kids:

1 + 2
10 - 1
Minus
Playing thinking games
Dividing
Numbers
Sorting
Shapes
Work
Patterns
Writing

From Primary Kids:

The language to explain certain happenings.
Fun for me. Math is all around us.
I love to do math because, first, it makes your mind smarter. Next, it just makes me happy. Lastly, I love my teacher every day in math.

From Junior kids:

Important, since, well, it’s used everywhere for everything, and so it’s basically necessary in our lives.
Awesome and it helps you learn. Math is also cool.
Everywhere. This is actually true, considering it covers all strands of life. For example in gym, strategic games, and science! You also use it when you don’t know it. That’s how math is everywhere.

And from this grade 6 philosopher:

Everything. Everywhere you go, everyone you meet, all have some connection with math. It’s logic, common sense, and thinking out of the box, not only the seemingly tedious arithmetic and problem solving. Math has grown into the world, and so the world wouldn’t be the world without it.

From Intermediate kids:

A way of solving equations/problem. Math is everything, everything is math.
A combination of numbers and symbols that is useful for every day life and can help you in the future (finding a job.)
Needed in life. Without Math, we’re idiots! Yeah!

And from a grade 8 philosopher:

A metaphor of life. Asks you to solve the problems it creates. It’s simple. Its just us creating ways to explain things we don’t fully understand.