As a student, I was always afraid of math. To me, it was hard and that was that. I can’t recall too many teachers who tried to make it fun or meaningful to me and instead, I just remember a lot of textbook work and rote learning that never quite ‘stuck’ with me. Math just seemed so abstract and since I relished in creative tasks, math was just not interesting to me and even a bit scary because of how far away from reality it seemed. I can honestly say that I learned more about math after my school years than when I was in school.
The real mathematical learning came when I had to use numbers in everyday situations and when ‘playing with numbers’ took place within authentic experiences. I learned a lot, for example, by simply becoming a cashier at my first part-time job. I had to add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly and on the spot. I learned how to round numbers, estimate but also how to be a careful counter. Being off, even by a few cents, meant I had to do some major backtracking in order to catch my mistake and that definitely wasn’t how I wanted to spend the last half hour of my shift. As I’ve gotten older and began earning money, paying bills and making larger purchases, I’ve continued my learning, now really ‘feeling’ the direct consequences of any miscalculations or poor spending choices. As a result, most of my mathematical knowledge and understanding of numbers has come from my own day to day living – not from school.
But becoming a teacher has made me realize that my experience of math as a student was extremely unfortunate and it’s definitely not how I want my own students to experience math. Had I been given the chance to learn math through play and hands-on investigations, more meaning would have been given to the math facts I was learning about. Perhaps math wouldn’t have been so scary. Better yet, I might have grown to love the challenges math provided.
As a teacher, I want to create learning experiences that can be accessed by all of my students, regardless of their abilities or learning styles. I know that the explorations need to be as authentic as possible for children to ‘connect’ to them and find practicality in them. Rather than frame math as a separate and abstract subject or set of skills, math needs to be woven into all parts of the day to show students that math really is everywhere. For instance, just as I enjoyed creative pursuits as a student, I want to integrate this component into math-based activities to attract and inspire other children who have similar interests. Most of all, when I invite children to participate in math-based activities or when I intend to ‘draw out the math’ in a spontaneous teachable moment, the main thing I want to accomplish is to make it fun. It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it’s so important.
In this post, I will highlight some of the math games and activities that my students took part in this past spring. Hopefully you will be able to see how I made special efforts to keep learning about math hands-on, authentic and fun.