Have you ever just stopped to think about how you use math in your life every day? I’ve been doing this a lot lately. It started last weekend, on the same day that I posted this tweet.
As I grabbed some cherries at breakfast this morning, I found myself subitizing to figure out how many I had (and how many more I wanted). Does anybody else do this? Since making this presentation months ago, I find myself doing this more & more. https://t.co/PdBYlR0t5R #mathchat
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) July 29, 2018
My step-dad has often said, “Too many cherries angry up your tummy,” and this statement has stuck with me. As such, every time I have cherries, I tend to think about the number that I’m eating. During this past school year, when my teaching partner and I spent more time focusing on subitizing, I found myself trying to subitize to figure out the number of cherries I selected in a handful. I’ll admit that along with subitizing, I often had a few wonders running through my head.
- Will I always grab approximately the same number of cherries?
- Is it possible to grab more than 10?
- How might my handful compare to a child’s handful?
- How might my handful compare to another adult’s handful? Are most adult handfuls around the same size?
- What might all of this information mean when it comes to understanding and applying non-standard measurement?
I kind of love how something as simple as grabbing a bunch of cherries can have me thinking about and using math.
It was actually later on last Sunday when I found myself thinking about math again. I went out for dinner on Sunday night with a friend. Both of us were paying cash for our meals, and I was working out the tip. I usually leave around 25%, and I do so, because I have a quick way of figuring out this amount. I just divide the total of the bill in half, and then in half again. I shared this little tidbit with my teacher friend, as she was also working out her tip. Not only does this kind of math help me keep my mental math skills sharp — yes, at times, computations matter — but it also helps me do some thinking about these number amounts.
- What if the service was incredible? How might I adjust this total to closer to 30%?
- Or what if the service was not as good as usual? How might I easily figure out 20% instead?
- What role does rounding play?
- How do I use anchors of 5 and 10 to help me out?
Yes, I’m “such a teacher,” but I do appreciate authentic reasons to engage in math thinking and learning. I thought of that especially this week when working with one of our Camp Power campers. I was walking up the hallway just before lunchtime, and I heard this camper coming out of his classroom. He slammed the door shut and started to scream. I walked over to him and quietly said, “You seem really angry. Do you want to come and sit with me for a little while?” He replied, “I don’t want to talk!” I said, “We don’t need to. We can just sit.” And so we did. It didn’t take long though before he started to talk.
His story began with, “We shouldn’t be doing math at camp. We didn’t do it last year. Why are we doing it now? I don’t want to do math.” Interesting. I remembered this camper from last year, and I replied, “Didn’t you use Dash, the robot, last year?” He was quick to confirm that he did. So quietly I said, “Well then, you actually did do math. You figured out the length that it could travel straight down the maze before it needed to turn. You figured out the angle of the turn. You learned how bigger and smaller numbers changed the size of the angle. You did a lot of math!” This stopped him for a minute. Then he replied, “Well nobody ever told me that was math. That math wasn’t on a sheet. I didn’t need a pencil for that math.” Hmmm …
In Kindergarten, we focus on noticing and naming the math behaviours that we see through play. This is how we develop mathematical vocabulary, as well as problem solving, thinking, and understanding. Talking with this camper recently and considering my own authentic math opportunities, I’m more convinced than ever that this Kindergarten approach to math has value well beyond the early years. Thinking about what this child said to me, what are we — even unknowingly — communicating about math based on the choices that we make for how to explore mathematical concepts? Is this what we want to communicate, and if not, how might we change this message?
I can’t help but reflect on this Twitter discussion from the other night.
My kids have grown up hearing me point out real world math. Once in awhile they’ll do it to me (they’re now 22 & 23) – impact!
— Kelly McCrory (@teach_mcc) August 2, 2018
If we think about the math that kids remember and the math that they apply, are we doing enough of this kind of math, and if not, is it time to change? One day, I want my previous students to be thinking about math in their lives as I do, and hopefully seeing it in a positive light. Before we head back to school, I wonder if it’s time to do some more math thinking of our own.