Hands-On Math

With the switch to the common core, I am so excited to see a shift in our math instruction!  One of the biggest and most important messages came from a stellar teacher named Dan Meyer.  He was featured on a TED talk a few months back.  His concern is that we are dumbing down math WAY too much for our students.  Amen!  I know that I often saw my students freak out during a word problem because they had no idea what to do with the numbers.  They would guess on operations to use to solve the problems, and it drove me crazy that my students didn't have the critical thinking and problem solving skills, let alone the patience, to solve a more intricate word problem unless the problem held their hand all the way through it and told them how to solve it.

Needless to say, this year will look a LOT different in my classroom.  I've never been a big fan of the math book day-by-day instruction because I know when I had classes with that model I had a hard time connecting information.  (I'm not anti-book.  I think that there is a place for it all in a math class, it just needs to be balanced!  I'm also all for the book when I have to call a sub in at the last minute as well!)  I think there needs to be time for students to discover, explore, and practice.  This includes a time for the teacher to step back and let the students battle it out.  Is it ok for students to struggle sometimes?  Yup.  One of the huge differences between Japan, Singapore, and the US is the amount we expect of our students.  Give it a try with your students.  Give them a task that doesn't have an obvious answer and let them go for it!  You'll be quite surprised what they can come up with!  

Back to Dan Meyer, he is the king of connecting math to the real world.  Basically, this was his inspiration:
Seriously, who buys 60?  It's no wonder that our students have a hard time connecting math to the real world outside of class when we are talking about buying an unrealistic amount of fruit that most kids don't even like anyway.  Let's present kids with stuff that they will actually come across in life, regardless of what they choose to pursue as a career.  Let's give them a reason to spend 60 minutes or more in math each day, and "you'll need it for college" isn't a valid answer for them.  Will they need it?  Absolutely.  Is math important for college?  Yes.  But even while I was at college, there were kids who struggled to use math in the real world.  We have to sell kids on math and make them realize that math will help them each and every day.  

Check out Dan's ideas here at www.threeacts.mrmeyer.com.  His approach is intense.  When he gives a problem, he often leaves out key information.  As students begin solving the problem, they begin to notice what they need and do not need so that it's not a crap shoot of random numbers with assumed operations.  When they are analyzing on their own, a magical math book will not appear with a sample problem.  :)  They need to figure out what is important.  So, his initial problem may seem harsh and impossible, but with time, you will see a lot more perseverance (which is one of the key mathematical qualities as outlined by the NCTM).  If you're interested in implementing more of this in your class (don't worry, every day in your class does not need to be like this, but it is a great way to anchor a unit/concept/idea), look into the CMI model for math instruction.  It's AWESOME!  Brigham Young University is HUGE into training their pre-service teacher in this model, and you can find more here: http://education.byu.edu/news/magazine/cmi/