How is this math anyway?

At what point do kids start forming opinions about what math is and what it is not?  Recently, I have noticed a trend that somewhat upsets me.  Whereas my 1st and 2nd graders may say things like “This is not like the math we do in school,” the 4th and 5th graders will at best ask “How is this math?” and more often say outright “this is not math!”

For example, earlier in the year we had several classes on the topic of “Knights and Knaves.”  Most kids really enjoyed playing the roles of truth-tellers and liars and then solving problems about them.  However, at some point one kid asked, “Why are we doing this in math class?  This is logic, not math.”  Several other kids chimed in that they also thought that logic was not math, but they didn’t care since it was fun.  And only one kid in the class confidently said that logic was a part of math.

Oh, and making these


was certainly a fun holiday art project and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with math.

Speaking of art, we have been doing a lot of it in this so called “math” class.  Determining whether a figure can be drawn without lifting a pencil involves math?  And what about creating an animal picture that can tessellate the plane?  How about drawing the top, front, and side views of a tower?

All of these activities are very different from anything the kids have witnessed called “math” in the past.  From their prior experience, math must involve numbers or at least some geometric shapes (oh yeah, and things that aren’t circles or polygons don’t count).

What mathematical activities have you done with kids where it was hard for them to believe that they were doing math?





About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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4 Responses to How is this math anyway?

  1. Admin says:

    My observation with my son is that he separates what he learns at school from the life outside. It is not just math. He goes to a Montessori and they teach them how to clean and wash a table. But when I tell him to clean the table at home, he says that is different. And that one is just their lesson at school.


  2. I focus on math as patterns and the universal underlying structure of the world. Geometry is where math came from–away to describe the surroundings –think cultural number systems long before algebra. Math, however, is taught as if all is linear. Geometry is visual and linear only when measuring one dimension. I believe the concentration on linear thinking and math “problems” contribute to math anxiety since most learners are visual and do not see the linearity meaningful. Most folks enjoy measuring and drawing thus seeing the value of linear measurement in a 2- or-3 dimensional design/building. Come to the NumbersAlive! Booth to draw and build polygon puzzles or a home for a number moving to NumberOpolis! at the Bay Area Maker Faire this Friday-Sunday!


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