Sunday, December 4, 2011


Math... a bogeyman?  Something to be feared?  Something to teach.  When we started this term (which is now winding down to the final 2/5 of the practicum... 15/25 done, that is), I met our Math Ed prof and casually mentioned that I was intrigued by the "math" class.  Math education, I was corrected.  Indeed.  Math ed.  How do you teach math?

Problem-based learning, that is.  And recently a study was published stating that Manitoba ranks below several other provinces in how our students do on certain mathematics and literacy standards tests.  One or two percentage points difference, but it was enough to get some emotional responses from the public.  In my practicum, as we discussed in our math ed class, the range of ability and interest varies.  For some, it's a difficult prospect to think about division.  Multiplication is another challenge, and without understanding grouping of numbers and how they can be re-arranged, you won't figure out division easily.  (I am interested in figuring out to explain this to a group of students ...)  Thanks Thomas Falkenberg, math ed prof., for raising the standard on how we can help our students learn this area.  People, at least some of the parents whose comments aired on radio or in letters to various editors, aren't that thrilled with problem-based learning.  Where are the facts?  Why don't they just memorize a set of numbers?  Well... until you understand how the bits are put together, memorization only exhibits one kind of learning ability.  And in a province that has one of the highest immigration rates in Canada, many classrooms have students from around the world, including some who arrive in the middle of the term, on any given day, with varying abilities in the English language.  So the challenge is to help students figure out the how and why, and also understand new terminology and some abstract concepts in another language.

Taking math to the real world is another challenge, and yesterday Nicole and I entered Chatter's, a chain store that sells "beauty supplies" and is open to the public!  OK, we're on.  She had to buy a $10 gift for a fellow gymnast, for the 'Secret Santa' event which is happening next week.  Understanding the relationships and concepts in numbers is difficult for Missie; however, she knows what she wants to buy for the person whose name she picked. She's clear on fashion and loves to enhance beauty, but figuring out how to spend the money can be a challenge, especially when everything is so beautiful!  So we entered to an immediate "How can I help you"?!  All cheery.  Not listening, though.  I explained our price point, looking for some ideas.  Immediately the "upsell" began.  Oh, you can buy two of these for $9.95 each and get a 3rd for free.  I explain the price point again, and that it might not be fair to other kids at the event if we brought a $20 gift, disregarding the limit.  The interest waned, and off the young lady wandered.  No longer a viable customer, I guess.  Nicole and I added the amounts of some gorgeous nail polish and a cute little foot scrubber -- just under $10.  I explained I would pay for the extra tax that would occur (percentages are still a concept that hasn't registered).  Off to the checkout and the price appeared higher than we'd figured.  Now how can I teach math if prices don't jive?  So I asked yet another attractive store clerk to check the price -- frowning, she points to the sticker on one of the products and assures me it's the amount that is listed.  I mention that the price on the shelf is different.  Really?  With a little put-down in the voice.  Like, why is the lady arguing with ME about the price.  Oops... price is different.  OK, back we go.  It's only $1.00, she says.  Yes, but it's my daughter's dollar, not yours, and we'd just figured out the math (I left the math part out; that would be the ultimate bore), and, and, and.  You will try to make us feel like bad people while you figure out the price difference. So we waited, while the young lady changed everything and gave us the difference.  Math is math, yes.  So is a bad attitude. I mentioned one more time that it's someone else's money, not hers.

I am enjoying the challenging of "teaching" math.  Both to my daughter and to students who are learning it in the classroom.  Math is everywhere, and math can be fun and without a foundation in basic facts and math relationships, the world will be smaller.  But math in the real world might be improved by a little change in attitude.

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