Snuggled up with Math

Though it feels like a lifetime ago, I started my career as a 5th grade teacher in Oakland and every once in while we’d do Math Mondays where we literally did math for the entire day. We’d tackle a huge problem which took an hour or two to solve and after finding pleasure in that, we’d do math games and puzzles for the rest of the day. My students would beg for these problems as they felt so different from the day-to-day skills covered in the textbook.

Though I haven’t taught math now in 3 years, today I had something similar to a Math Monday. I had lunch with an old friend who I met almost 20 years ago when she led some of the first math professional development I ever did through the Bay Area Math Project. She’s now a math professor at SF State and we spent much of lunch talking about ways to use technology to broaden kids’ understanding of math. By broaden, I literally mean just that. When kids need a greater challenge in math, how can we push their thinking deeper instead of simply giving them work from the next higher grade level’s standards?

I have a friend whose son is in first grade in Oakland and his teacher basically uses the iPad to teach math. I don’t know what program they use (though I should), but her son finished the entire first grade curriculum, then second, and is now working on the 3rd grade standards. I have very strong feelings about why this is not the right way to approach differentiating for a student for whom the grade level material is too easy. However, I’m going to refrain from saying more about that here, at least for now.

Today  I had my own Math Monday where I explored several online math sites which could push kids spatial and logical thinking, so literally broaden their definition of ‘what is math’ instead of simply doing more math at a higher grade level.

And after a quite satisfying Math Monday, I was eager to share some of my findings with Egan. Bloxorz is a great game to develop kids’ (and adults’ spatial reasoning). There’s an app for the iphone along with several math game web sites that host it. I found it here.

If you’d like to see quick demo, here I am playing it (and struggling a bit at the end where I then left the finishing touches for later).

Egan loves it and frankly is as good at it as I am.  That’s the beauty of taking the numbers out of math.  He and I are on equal footing when it comes to spatial reasoning as it’s definitely not a strength of mine.  While he normally gets visibly upset when he loses, he could laugh at himself when the block fell off the course and he had to start the level again.  I challenge you to play it with your own child and see who has a better intuitive sense of this three-dimensional spatial reasoning.


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