Operating on a Level Playing Field

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As you all know by now (if not, check out my welcome post), I am taking an online course this summer. This week in math class was quite interesting for me.  My biggest issue with any kind of coursework is “what am I getting out of this?” or “How will this help me in the future?”  I like to know that what I’m doing is actually benefiting me in some way.  Busy work drives me absolutely bananas.  I’m pretty sure any parent out there can understand where I’m coming from with that statement (we all have enough things to do during the day without feeling like our time is being wasted on something that will not directly benefit us in the very near future).  The lessons from our text this week were completely valid.  I will admit that at first I thought it was going to be silly (I mean, why would we need to know what kind of numeration system ancient Egyptians used?!); however, about half way through the chapter, I decided that it was a great lesson for me to learn (maybe not the math itself, but the reasoning behind  the math.  Well-played, Chapter 3, well-played.

This week we worked on using the different math operations with different base numbers.  So, if our current numeral system works off a base ten (which it does), think about switching it up and trying to do addition or subtraction using a completely different base (ie: base 5 or base 2).  It took me a few tries to really wrap my brain around the concept.  The base ten system has been ingrained in my head for so long that I felt almost naked trying to operate off of a completely different system. A light bulb at this point went off and I realized that this is how students feel when we try to teach them something that is so natural to us.  This week I learned to put myself back in the shoes of my students and remember what it feels like for some of the concepts to not come quite so naturally.

I like to think about it as trying to explain to someone what exactly we’re doing when we’re chewing or swallowing food.  For most of us adults things like the number of minutes in an hour and the number of seconds in a minute are something we do not even need to think about anymore.  It’s natural –or at least it certainly should be for those of us even considering teaching America’s youth!  What if you had to explain to a child how to properly chew food?  Could you explain how to use your tongue to push the food around? When to know to swallow? How many times to chew? Which teeth to bite food off with versus which teeth should be used to grind the food up?  These are all things that come to us naturally at this point, but think about a six month old baby having her first experience with solid foods. Also think about having to explain it to someone for the very first time…it would be frustrating!  As a parent, do you hand the baby a grape and expect her to know exactly what to do with it? For your child’s sake, I certainly hope not!  We need to approach math with a similar thought process.  We need to ease our kids in and remember that this is all new for them.

I was surfing the net to see what kind of numeral systems are used around the world.  I was surprised that the whole concept of swapping base numbers is not just utilized in this course.  This is a very normal occurrence (similar to using a Fahrenheit / Celsius conversion…which if you have ever spent any time in Europe at all, you will know is something definitely worth knowing)!  It is an excellent example of taking ourselves out of our comfort zones to understand where our students are coming from.

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