Musings on Kids and Math

I’ve been thinking a lot about kids and math these days. Certainly, there’s been a lot of work to promote Eat Your Math Homework and with it, I’ve met lots of people who either, a) Love math and love the idea of pairing something wonderful–food– with the topic, or b) Would rather read anything else, do anything else, be anywhere else than in a room where the topic is math.

I started getting serious about writing books for kids about math probably eight years ago now. Then, as now, it seems to be a hard sell to at least a large segment of the market. (Evidence: recent popular T-shirts with ‘allergic to algebra’ or ‘I’m too pretty to do math’ on them). People don’t naturally gravitate to math books. To many, I feel like math still conjures up pages and pages of deadly math worksheets that are either so darn boring that they are a cure for insomnia (Thanks, Bill, for that saying), or they are too complicated to figure out and so avoidance is the key to success. Don’t think about math and it will go away.

I’m not a genius math student at all. I do love math and I find it fascinating, but my skills are limited. Let’s just say that if I had to take a college-level math course, I’d be in trouble. Like anything, math can be tricky. My sincere hope with the books I’ve had published so far is to get kids to really, really love math. Just like broccoli in cheese sauce (Would we enjoy the plain, steamed variety as much– I think not), math and food or math and anything fun is a winning combination.

Here’s a writing (or thinking) exercise to do for fun.

Let’s start with fairytales, a genre that is beloved to most of us: Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White… How does math figure into these stories? How could you do a retelling where math is the main attraction? (Or at least, it figures prominently– oops, no pun intended!) That whole issue of the time countdown until midnight is a great math connection for Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty, well, how about something about how long her hair grows if it grows x inches in y number of years? My image of that fairytale is of her long, long gorgeously golden hair. Oooo– how about Snow White and the seven dwarfs? If every dwarf  mines seven feet of rock per day and every foot holds 7 precious stones and they do this for a week, how many precious stones will they accumulate?

Okay, so maybe that’s too complicated, too much work. How else can one make math fun? Projects, cooking (For sure!), every day math? Attitude is key. I feel like if one is enthusiastic about the topic, children will be too. It’s the holiday season. How about making mathematical gingerbread houses? If you start with the easy-peezy graham cracker kind, (put 6 graham crackers together in a house shape with gingerbread house icing which will dry and keep the pieces together solidly) the fun will be in how to decorate it in a mathematical way. Ie. How many gumdrops are there around the perimeter of the roof? What shapes are the windows? How long, exactly, is the path from the door?

Lots of rambling today. I hope these ideas sparked your interest. Happy holidays and best math wishes, Ann

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One Response to Musings on Kids and Math

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