When I was in elementary school, I hated math.
The bane of my existence was long division. I hated long division, I didn’t understand it, and I felt like I would never get it.
Ironically, last year when I was student teaching, long division was one of my favorite things to teach. It was great relating to students and letting them know that long division was hard for me, too.
I think about my time teaching long division last year and how much I didn’t like math when I was in elementary school. It wasn’t until I took algebra when I decided that math wasn’t exactly the spawn of Satan and it was actually kind of nice to do something methodical with a clear-cut right answer.
As a first-year-teacher, I’ve really enjoyed teaching math. I think I’ve enjoyed it so much because it’s so different than it was when I was in elementary school.
In 1998 when I was in third grade, I remember things being very different. I remember a lot of math books and workbooks and solving the problems on paper. That’s about it.
Flash-forward 15 years and here I sit cutting squares for a hands-on math activity I’ll do with my students tomorrow when we do a lesson on geometry. I don’t remember a lot of hands-on activities when I was younger, but I feel like that’s such a big part of what I incorporate into my lessons now.
Why wasn’t that something I remember from my elementary school years?
Why wouldn’t you do hands-on activities to make math relevant to your students? Why wouldn’t you tap into the knowledge pool of your students so they can make connections to make math real to them? For me, it’s been incredible watching my third graders really apply the math that they’ve learned this year. It’s so rewarding hearing them compare fractions at lunch — “No, I have HALF of my pizza left — you ate 3/4, so now you only have 1/4 left, and I have more than you do!”
Seriously, this magic happens all on its own.
When we get on our class Twitter to tweet about our day (@ballininB10), it’s heartwarming to see the kids using their math vocabulary. Hearing words like “sides” and “vertices” come out of the mouth of a nine-year-old is something that is just really cool to me.
I willingly admit that I never really thought of how much math there was in every day life. My dad was always (and still is) really good at applying mathematical knowledge to every day activities. Whenever I go to the store with him, he asks me how much per pound the sugar is, or he’ll ask the amount we’ll save with a certain discount.
I also willingly admit that I’m bad at this kind of math, but I’m making strides to improve.
The thing that really strikes me is how important problem-solving is when it comes to math. Problem-solving, logic, and manipulating figures is such a huge part of math that doesn’t even always require numbers! Abstract concepts like spatial reasoning are something I feel like aren’t always taught to their potential.
Another reason why I think I like teaching math so much? It’s something I know I can get through with my newcomer ELLs. I have a student who is new from Mexico this year, and math has been such a great doorway for her to find her footing with sharing out with others in class. Numbers are this universal language that anyone from any language background can work with, which is such a beautiful thing! I’ve actually found that a lot of my ELLs are really strong with patterns, spatial reasoning, and algebra. I guess their minds just work a little differently when they’re trying to learn more than one language!
An excellent New Teacher Chat inspired me to write this — it just really got me thinking about how fun and relevant math really is. So many things that I do every day revolve around math, whether I think about it or not — playing guitar, balancing my checkbook, driving my car, filling out my March Madness bracket.
To my fellow math-wasn’t-really-my-thing-when-I-was-younger friends everywhere: forget what you thought you knew about math, because the ways we teach it now are so much better than they were before.