Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Math Got to Do with It?

A man is on a diet and goes into a shop to buy some ham slices. He is given 3 slices which together weight ⅓ of a pound, but his diet says that he is only allowed to eat ¼ of a pound. How much of the 3 slices he bought can he eat while staying true to his diet?

There is a lovely book in the John J. Flynn Parent Resource Center these days. It’s called What’s Math Got to Do with It? How parents and teachers can help children learn to love their least favorite subject, by Jo Boaler. The book was published in 2009, but I have only recently discovered it.

Boaler includes many more problem-solvers like the one above. Don’t worry if you don’t know a formula to figure out how many turkey slices the man can eat. Start drawing pictures and think about what a whole pound would look like. Go slow and use your intuition. Says Boaler, “Children begin school as natural problem solvers and many studies have shown that students are better at solving problems before they attend math classes.”

…People don’t like mathematics because of the way it is misrepresented in school. The math that millions of Americans experience in school is an impoverished version of the subject and it bears little resemblance to the mathematics of life or work or even the mathematics in which mathematicians engage.

In addition to the prompt I shared in my last post “What do you think you should try next?”, Boaler shares more good prompts to use with children:

  • How did you think about the problem?
  • What was the first step?
  • What did you do next?
  • Why did you do it that way?
  • Can you think of a different way to do the problem?
  • How do the two ways relate?
  • What could you change about the problem to make it easier or simpler?