What is your math story? What comes to your mind when someone says the word math? Unfortunately in our society, math is unpopular. In fact, if you look at the amount of likes and retweets of the screen capture here, it would seem that the feelings shared are mutual to many.
When I was a junior high and high school math teacher, I constantly battled these feelings in my students. If ever I was successful in getting them excited about math, parents would share their surprise in statements like, “ My child actually said she likes math!” Rooted in many of these negative feelings is usually a memory of a person’s experience in his mathematical learning. Maybe it was standing at the board not knowing how to solve the problem in front of you. Maybe it was the anxiety that filled your mind when you could not finish the timed test on math facts. Maybe it was being called on for an answer during a math lesson when you felt completely lost. In a recent presentation, my colleague and I asked the adult participants, “On the road to Mathtopia, where are you and why?” Much like the tweet above, we saw notes that reflected the same sentiment. One said, “ As a student in college, I struggled with math. Even now I feel afraid to talk about it.” Another said, “ I’m not good with math at all. I avoid math at all costs.”
As the Early Math Team here at The AIMS Center works with very young children, I often consider how the experiences we are bringing to these children will change their math stories. In my last blog, I introduced the prototype of our game, “Frog Splash.” We have since brought this activity to our students multiple times. Here is a clip from one small group session.
So much math seems to be happening. We can observe children subitizing, counting dots on the die and moves on the board, and recreating finger patterns. It takes multiple views to notice all the mathematics that the children are engaging in, but what is easy to observe is the joy. The children are having so much fun playing the game. We introduced them to a structure and gave them this research-based math activity, but what could only be self-initiated was the fun. Our invitation to the children was, “ Do you want to come play a math game?” Maybe those words don’t naturally go together for a lot of people, but these young children were excited to play the game multiple times. As they left the game, I smiled because I know they have the hope of a wonderful beginning to their math story.
This past December, The AIMS Center adopted the motto, “ We believe in children’s knowledge.” We believe children construct their knowledge of mathematics and science based on their experiences and that the knowledge built, in turn, influences future experiences. As the Early Math Team works with young children, our goal is to develop more math activities like “Frog Splash” – activities that provide children with opportunities to engage with mathematics in a fun and playful way. Once developed and piloted, we’ll share these with teachers so that they can bring them to their students. We believe it is possible to help students discover a joy in mathematics and I look forward to sharing more of this math story with you.