Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Nemesis Maths

I suspect that I only ever lied to my mum about two things. Number one, "no I do not like that boy." And number two was always about maths. Many years later and maths and I are still fighting with each other. The problem however is that the fight hasn't changed very much. I used to avoid doing maths because I found it boring. Nowadays my fight with maths is all about how to make it less boring. Imagine what you would say to me if this was a relationship... "You didn't like him to start with and then you try and change him? Dump him!" But it seems maths and I are linked and locked together whether we like it or not. A firm believer that change starts at home, with me, I have begun to try and repair the dysfunctional relationship between maths and myself. After all, think of the children! One does not want the children to suffer because of our broken relationship.

I have been working on repairing the relationship for one and three quarters of a year. Although maths and I are stronger than ever, we still have a long way to go. However, after talking it over, we thought it is time we share some of the tools that has helped us rebuild.

I found that planning for maths was a lot more fun if I made things themed. As a result I made a Matrix themed BEDMAS lesson, a baking themed fractions lesson, a Fast and the Furious themed decimal lesson, a superhero themed prime, multiples and factors lesson. Of course themed lessons are rather time consuming to think of and then make. I did however find making them based on a student in the class' interest was very useful too. This is what inspired the pythagoras and trigonometry military tanks lesson, with the assistance of my former military dad (thankfully, as my interests previously extended to shoes, handbags and other things, not howitzer tanks and their range). Since the actually recommended this lesson in one of their newsletters you would think that the relationship between maths and I was on the mend, however Rome wasn't built in a day.

Of course there is inspiration to be found on YouTube. One can't really lose with a video like "How to defeat a dragon with maths" and the other great TedEd maths videos. There are also some other things that I like to share such as why X is the unknown and the maths of history. Dan Meyer also provides suitable inspiration with his TEDx video and blog.

I teach maths five out of the days in the six day timetable, the above is not enough to sustain the strained relationship between maths and myself. So I needed more. I found more by inventing a constant stream of maths games. For example Multiple Hand Ball - every time you hit the ball you have to say the next multiple. Or Musical Chair Tables - I put timetables on the chairs and then when the music stops I ask you what the answer is of the timetable you are sitting on. You are out if you don't know. Or Power Ranger Inequalities where your are out if you are not the first person to point your arms in the direction of the largest amount or block if the problems on the board are equal. We've also had treasure hunts around the school using coordinates and bearings. We have also had races to solve the equations I wrote in sidewalk chalk around the school.

I have always been fascinated by problems with complicated answers. As such I was pretty excited when I invented Jenga maths for the students to measure angles and see the real world applications of angles in building. Students had to build the tallest possible tower using Jenga blocks in the centre of large circular area called the safe zone. Using a piece of string, students then had to measure the angle from the top of the tower to the edge of the safe zone. The challenge was to build the tower with the largest possible angle where no blocks would fall outside the safe zone when an earthquake hits. I'm pretty sure the students enjoyed this activity as they were all engaged. However more importantly, I loved this activity. Maths was suddenly perfectly relevant, as it should be, to the very real context of New Zealand and the considerations we have to make when building tall structures. And here it seems is the big neon sign that says look here. Maths and I are stronger and better together when real world problems are being simulated, when there is noise, when the challenge extends beyond one right answer.

So could the answer be project based learning?  Our next topic is measurement. Maths and I need your help to find a good real world problem to solve, perhaps simulate, question, rework and most likely make some noise because my students and I are having a ball learning. Got any ideas for us?

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