Thursday, 12 December 2013

Tired of the excuse "I'm not good at math"

I think I have ranted about this before, if not in a blog, definitely in person.  Why is it okay to say "I am not good at math". The most recent occurance happened today.  I was at a local grocery store when I brought up three items for price match.  The three items were on sale 3 for 5 dollars.  The cashier (who was not a young person, not that age matters in this) said "that is $1.20 each right? Sorry I am not good at math."  My reply was no it's 1.66, actually 1.66666666666, so one of them will be 1.67. She look at me confused and punched it in anyways.  

The reason why I have a problem with this is, do people walk around and say "I can't write, or read". No their embarrassed.  I know this personally because I do have a hard time writing.  Words, grammar (as some may attest when reading this), punctuation and overall language is hard for me. But I don't say that it's okay for me to not be able to write.  I have done numerous writing course, read books on how to improve and I keep on writing (as bad as it may be). Why, because I know that it takes time and practise to become better.

This brings me to another conversation that I have had with a friend.  "Teachers don't teach math facts, so kids fail math."  He continued to say, " when I was in school we practised and practised and I knew them". You may ask how is this related, well if practising facts was all it took then this cashier would have remembered that 3 goes into five only once and that with two left over that is 2/3, which converts to .666666666. But did she, no, why because math facts or math In general doesn't happen in isolation.  Instead like any learning it happens in context and develops over time.

I am not saying that students should not learn facts but gone are the days of flash cards and mad minutes.  Practising facts should be done but through a way that promotes contextual use of numbers, much like how I solved it a moment ago.  Break numbers apart, play with them, change them to make sense.  Math is a beautiful thing and we often constrain our students to think that it has to be done a certain way or by a certain procedure.  Students need time to explore, build understanding and move along a continuum of understanding.

So as I end my rant, how do you teach math?  What strategies do you employ to help with facts? And how do you find a balance between content and context?  Love to hear your thoughts.