I was not a picky eater as a child. My parents had no trouble convincing me to eat my peas, artichokes, and even spinach (in the form of my dad’s delicious Thanksgiving stuffing). But I drew the line at Brussels sprouts. There was just no way for me to get over that cabbagy smell.
Then, a few years ago, a colleague brought in roasted Brussels sprouts for a work potluck. I can’t say that they looked particularly appetizing—they were just blackened, slightly shrunken versions of the mini-cabbages I so disliked. But after one bite, I was sold. YUM! Roasted Brussels sprouts, I found, were slightly sweet and completely addictive. They are now my go-to vegetable.
What does this have to do with math education? Well, a lot of kids (and their parents) think of math as being a lot like a stinky vegetable. They take it because it’s required to graduate, and they may know it’s good for them, but they don’t find it enjoyable. That’s why I get so excited when teachers share lessons they’ve created that make math a bit sweeter for students, without losing any nutrients in the process.
Take, for example, this lesson described by New York City educator Karen Blumberg.
The sixth-grade students Karen worked with first studied reflections of figures in the coordinate plane, then moved on to rotations. For a culminating project, they created tessellations using dynamic geometry software. But wait, there’s more—after creating tessellations on the computer, the students then built physical models of them. So the students first applied their knowledge of shapes and transformation to construct dynamic tessellations using software, then got the tangible experience of working with a physical model. What Common Core standards does this lesson cover? Well, these two sixth-grade standards:
- Draw polygons in the coordinate plane given coordinates for the vertices; use coordinates to find the length of a side joining points with the same first coordinate or the same second coordinate. Apply these techniques in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.
- Understand signs of numbers in ordered pairs as indicating locations in quadrants of the coordinate plane; recognize that when two ordered pairs differ only by signs, the locations of the points are related by reflections across one or both axes.
And it’s great preparation for this eighth-grade standard:
- Understand that a two-dimensional figure is congruent to another if the second can be obtained from the first by a sequence of rotations, reflections, and translations; given two congruent figures, describe a sequence that exhibits the congruence between them.
Here’s another recipe for delicious math: A lesson posted by Atlanta teacher Megan Golding in which she takes the potentially dry topic of circumcenters and turns it into a juicy, engaging, school-wide treasure hunt for 300 students.
Megan’s lesson involved a lot of time and planning; she collaborated with other math teachers and involved them, along with school administrators, in the treasure hunt itself. I love that she ran the project on the day before Thanksgiving, a day when students and teachers might otherwise be counting the minutes until the start of the long weekend.
To Karen, Megan and the many other great teacher-bloggers out there, thank you for sharing your lessons. Just as my friend Christa shared her recipe and transformed my view of Brussels sprouts forever, your posts will give other teachers ideas for making math lessons richer, more engaging, and maybe even more appetizing for their students.