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Math All Around Us

Making math connections all around us

During colder winter months, until the first glimpse of spring, activities tend to move more indoors (unless students are out building snow people.) This is where field trips to aquariums and art or science museums come in, as well as discovering math in places we may not usually look for it. Opportunities abound for students to learn more about how math weaves into our world, while they stay warm inside.

In this article a noted middle school math teacher named Alessandra King talks about “how to make real-world connections during field trips and interdisciplinary projects.” Alessandra King is a physicist by training, and the middle school math coordinator at the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, MD. She’s also taught math and physics in Italy and the Philippines.

Math is linked inextricably to science and art. Alessandra suggests ways to integrate math learning into field trips focused on those things. For example, on that trip to an art museum students can take note of 2D and 3D figures, or calculate the area of a framed painting. In an aquarium, can they estimate the volume of a tank of water?

Back at school, how about morning programs to solve math problems along specific themes? Alessandra suggests those themes could be historical problems and current applications, logic puzzles and riddles, or counterintuitive problems. Teachers or middle school students, or both, could run the program. If your school has a Math Club, they could come up with themes and/or the problem of the morning for everyone to solve.

 Alessandra then opens exploration into how math connects to social studies and history. She describes how a social studies teacher applies game theory to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inquiry into indigenous Central and South American civilizations can include the Mayan and Aztec numerical system. That study can aid student understanding of the Hindu/Arabic base-10 number system we still use today.

This animated video is a Ted Ed Lesson, written by Alessandra King, on the history of numerical patterns. The study of numbers was well developed in ancient Greece by 600 B.C.E., as thinkers examined mathematical patterns in shapes, music, and the stars. This TED Ed Lesson takes students through centuries of numerical measurement and notation development across Europe, the Middle East, India, and China, right up to base-2 or binary system for computer coding.

Math is all around us in the creative arts and natural phenomena of the present, as well as embedded in historic development of civilizations. Interdisciplinary approaches can underscore for students what a relevant and versatile tool math is. Indoor field trips are gold mines for measurements. Add DreamBox to the mix, and students can burrow into engaging indoor math learning all winter long.

And not to be missed is Alessandra King’s animated video Ted Ed Lesson called “A brief history of banned numbers.” Yes, “some numbers have been considered dangerous enough to ban.”

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