Teacher Reflection 180: Day 15

Where do you expect to use Math outside of school?  Explain.

What type of math will it involve?

Write an example.

 

This is another important reflection for me, it gives me insight to what experiences the student has had in their previous mathematics classes.  It is a question that should stretch student’s thinking- if it doesn’t, the typical reason is that they have been taught to be answer-finders instead of critical thinkers.

 

Where do you expect to use Math outside of school?

This question will give you a lot of information on your students.  It will tell you if students see math as a tool to help them in their experiences outside of school, or if it is just another assignment they are expected to do while in school.  It also tells you the level of understanding students have of math, of how it could be used in the varying situations they will encounter.

Typical answers are: Construction, Cashier or Paying Bills.

While these are great examples, they are also limited.  When I first gave this question to students, I was happy that they were seeing mathematics for something other than exercises to keep them busy in class.  I was happy they saw some relevance outside of school, and it wasn’t until the 3rd year of receiving the same responses that I realized that students were not making connections to applications they will need outside of school- they were in fact just regurgitating discussions I had with them about why math is important.  I started to find examples students could encounter in real life.  I quickly found out however that it isn’t as easy as changing a problem from finding the perimeter of a rectangle to finding the fencing needed to enclose a pasture.

 

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Isn’t the second picture much more engaging than the first?  Won’t students only see the picture of the rectangle in textbooks, while they could see the second anywhere they traveled?  How can you go wrong in changing your focus?  Simply answered: You need to capture student interest and curiosity.  While  using an actual photo to pose the question might pick up a few more students’ attention, you actually aren’t inspiring more curiosity or thought than the picture on the left.

 

What if you posed a perimeter problem by showing the following video?

 

This would be a great 3 Acts problem (which I think I will create after this post) where you can have students figure out the perimeter of their gym using an alternate measuring system- students.

 

What type of math will it involve?

Students seem to think that the only mathematics you need is the four basic operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  They fail to see the application of any other type of mathematics and that is why they question their teachers so much.  They think that the mathematics they need for their jobs is the kind that can be done on a basic calculator, and shut themselves off when they identify operations outside the four (this includes these lovely grouping symbols).  Their stamina in pursuing an answer is also directly related to this.  Many of my students will happily go back and correct errors on basic operations problems, but refuse to engage their mind in critical thinking to solve or even correct something slightly more demanding.

I find that this response narrows down student’s experience with mathematics even more.  Many identify jobs or situations where mathematics is needed, but have little comprehension on what type of mathematics is involved in those fields.

 

Write an example.

With many students, I typically only need the first two questions to have a great handle on what knowledge base students have in math.  This question is basically the icing on the cake.  This one separates those high fliers I have in my room and I typically am hard on them with this response.  I challenge them to create a good example, and typically ask them if that problem is the only type they will face in their situation, leading them to go back and create more examples or revise their own into something more complex.

 

In my experience, this is a great reflection to get a solid handle on your student’s overall experience in math early in the year, and one I keep going back to in an attempt to gauge how well I am connecting mathematics to my students.

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