Following the math trail home

I like Steve already. Image Credit: Foxtrot/ Bill Amend

Worksheets, questions on the board, and a pile of workbooks. Don’t mind me, I was just in the midst of recounting (ha ha!) my experience in learning math. Formally, at least.

Outside the classroom, there were instances of grocery shopping, buying gum and memorizing the times tables with fridge magnets.

There is no question that math is everywhere around us, and it’s easy to show that to our kids, as I’ve just mentioned. But relating math to daily life is so much more than splitting up pizzas and cakes. With the number of fractions questions I’ve seen, I’m surprised the bakers and pizza makers of the world haven’t rolled their dough and eyes in despair yet. And don’t get me started on the 𝝅.

This year, how about giving math trails a try? In a piece for Edutopia, Alessandra King writes that math trails aim to help learners “(re)discover the math around them” as well as “celebrate math concepts and problems in real-life contexts”. King shared about her experience about taking her seventh-grade class on a math trail in Washington D.C. that was designed by the Math Association of America.

As the students spent the day in Washington, they noted the architecture of the different buildings (geometry), the distance from this location to another (measurement) and even the path of a carousel ride from a trigonometric point of view. Once they got back to school, they each researched the mathematical significance of their findings and shared them in both conventional (notice boards) and newer methods (kahoots).

Disclaimer: Math trails may not solve the great mystery that is the journey of socks in the laundry cycle. Image Credit: Maria Zavolokina/ The Bright Side

Math trails are collaborative rather than competitive, which distinguishes it from other common methods such as scored worksheets with its aim of increasing consciousness rather than getting correct answers. Another plus point is that you can reach your learners who have kinesthetic learning styles.

Best of all, math trails are flexible, so you can adapt them to your learners’ needs and your educational setting. You don’t necessarily have to plan a field trip out of school to explore a math trail. For example, if you’re in class on a rainy day, get each student to talk about how long it took them to get to school that day, as opposed to a day with fine weather. Plot graphs and relate the data to the weather forecasts for the week.

If you’re teaching your kids at home, math trails can also include technology and other communication skills . For example, record your activities for the first hour of the day and come up with math-related scenarios as you review your recording.

E.g. How much toothpaste do you squeeze out of the tube? Assuming you squeeze the same amount everyday, how long can a tube of toothpaste last?

Estimate the length of your staircase using Pythagoras’ Theorem.

While learning math has traditionally being about having learners arrive at correct answers and achieve the desired score, math trails invite them (and us) to transcend the previous way of thinking about math and see it at not merely a subject to ace, but also an integral part of life that can be truly wonderful, if they only follow its trail.

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