By Jessica Solano
Parents around the nation are finding themselves with a new title: assistant teacher. While some may be thrilled to potentially fulfill a missed calling of being an educator, others, admittedly, may feel a little unsure of how to teach their children, particularly in the area of mathematics. I’ve found that by seeking out opportunities to have math conversations, cleverly disguised as family dialogue, math seems much less intimidating and so much more applicable.
My 9-year-old daughter, Rayni, and I often like to walk around our neighborhood, particularly now that we’re stuck at home all day. As we’re walking around, pushing her 3-year-old brother, Oliver, in the stroller and enjoying the warm, clear-skied Florida day, I consider what questions I can ask Rayni to get her curious about the world around her. It’s easy to get it going – I just start thinking out loud:
- “This walk doesn’t seem too long, does it? How long do you think it takes us to get around this street loop?”
- “How long do you think it is around the loop?”
- “How many times do you think we’d have to walk around this loop to make one mile?”
It shows her that questions are a natural part of life and that instead of leaving it as a “wondering” we have the power to find answers to our questions and be better off from knowing those answers. That day, we drilled in on the distance around the rectangular street loop in our neighborhood.
Continuing to lead with questions rather than suggestions, I ask, “How would we figure this out?” Rayni began to make observations, noting:
- the loop is shaped similar to a rectangle instead of a circle,
- rectangles have equal lengths and equal widths,
- the sidewalk is broken into what looks like equal-sized sections; and that each section seems to be about 3 feet long (based on her estimate using our feet as rulers).
From there, we’re off – counting in sync as we walk the loop, taking notes on my phone so we don’t forget the measurements, and even rushing back to the house for measuring tape to make sure we have the right measurement of each sidewalk section.
- Each section of sidewalk was approximately 6 of Rayni’s feet. We later used a tape measure and found them to be 4 feet long.
- Then we counted 47 sections of sidewalk on the short sides of the rectangular block and 240 sections on the long side.
- Instead of trying to count all the sidewalk sections , Rayni knew a rectangle has 2 sets of equal sides so to find the perimeter she multiplied the short and long sides by 2. (47 x 2)+(240 x 2) = 94 + 480 = 574 sections.
- Knowing that each section was 4 feet and there were 574 sections, Rayni multiplied 574 x 4 to find the length of one loop to be 2,296 feet.
It wasn’t long until Rayni was enveloped in the task of finding out just how far we’d been walking each day and then translating it into inches, meters, and yards.
This is a math moment: a simple conversation with a hint of mathematical content. It’s accessible, it’s engaging, and, best of all, it’s doable! From board games to cooking lessons, math moments are everywhere. It all starts with a simple question. Check out more “math moment” ideas on my blog, Solving4Why!
Jessica Solano is the Teacher Engagement Leader for Polk County Schools and was recognized as the 2017 Florida Teacher of the Year and 2016 Polk County Teacher of the Year.