September 8, 2011

Why Do We Learn Math?

This morning my fifth graders and I were looking at various methods for solving multidigit multiplication problems. Our discussion focused on the importance of understanding why these methods work, rather than just the steps needed.
During this conversation I asked, "Why do we learn math?" They tentatively replied:
"To get the right answers"
"We need to know how to add"
"We have to add numbers"

I was really taken aback by their responses. To them math was just math divorced from the real world, an isolated set of steps for getting the right answers. So I asked a new question:

"How do people use math in their regular lives? In what ways do people you know use math?"

Here's what they came up with:
* Drilling holes ("My dad works on building roads. He needs to measure how big the holes will be")
* Carpentry
* Manufacturing cars ("All the parts need to fit together")
* Surgery ("A doctor needs to know how many stitches to use to close an opening")
* Fashion design
* Time ("My mom has to figure out how to get all 3 sisters to their after school activities"
* Getting paid for work
* Making a budget ("My dad is a contractor. My mom does the books and tells him how much money he can spend on things")
At this point, with twelve hands eagerly volunteering other examples of math in the real world, one student exclaimed, "Okay - math is in everything... Except for food!"

Everything except for food?

The rest of the class loudly protested that there is math in food. So we set about listing all the ways math is involved in food - from crops to grocery stores to the kitchen.

So, I returned to our original question - "Why do we learn math?"

And now the discussion took on an #entirelydifferent tone. Eagerly they bantered back and forth, concluding that math is all about

Solving Problems and Thinking


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1 comment:

  1. Awesome... I'm passing on to my math ed colleagues.