Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Great Number Rumble

I've been reading a great book on math to my kids. It's called, "The Great Number Rumble: A Story of Math in Surprising Places." by Cora Lee and Gillian O'Reilly. It's meant for middle schoolers to read on their own, but if you read it to your elementary schoolers and explain new concepts and skip the ones that are just too complex, you have a really good text for them.

Before I started reading this book to the children, I was struggling to work out how to show Shira that the math we did in lessons had an application in every day life. It was as if she had compartmentalized lessons from life. She'd happily add and subtract in lessons but when I would ask her silly things like, "I need 10 apples to make this pie. I have 2, so how many do we have to buy at the store?", she'd look at me like I'd grown horns. However, during lessons, if I asked her the same question, or 10-2, she'd know the answer in a heart beat.

I've always read a lot of living math books to the children but somehow I had not managed to help them make connections between the books, math lessons and real life. Enter this book....

The premise is simple, the Director of Education, removed math from his school district as he said that math was unnecessary. A math geek in one of the schools disagrees and challenges the director to a debate. Sam, our young hero, uses some clever little math tricks to prove his point.

Sam tells the director that if he fails to convince him that Math is important, that he will work for the director, every day after school, for a year. They then agree that the director will pay Sam a penny for the first day, 2 cents for the second, 4 for the third, 8 for the fourth and so on.

Right there and then, I stopped reading the book and pulled out the beads. I had the children use beads to see how much money the Director would owe Sam in 2 weeks.

Using beads was a masterful idea. They got to see how quickly the numbers added up. It was cute watching the children laugh at the Director's stupidity.

Then the book showed how geometry is in everything. Sam used the examples of triangles iin bicycles.

That's all it took. Ben and Shira have been on a math tear ever since. We're now reading the book for plain old enjoyment. The connections between life, math and lessons have been made.

I saw that this afternoon. Ben and Shira were making pretend hamburgers and hotdogs out of construction paper for their animals. Shira told me that she had cut 7 hot dogs and needed to cut 14 hot dog buns. She told me that she had worked it out by skip counting in 2's for each hot dog. I thought it was neat that she worked that out because we haven't touched on mulitplication yet.

Right now she's polishing the trash can ( my daughter did not inherit this need to clean from me) and is asking me to give her mental addition problems. She specifically wants me to give her 2 and 3 digit numbers to add. She works out the problems out loud and it's fascinating to hear how she does it. She definitely understands place value because she breaks all the numbers into tens, hundreds and ones and then she has little tricks for other numbers. Tricks like when adding 8 and 5, she says, I know that 8 is 3+5, so that is 5+5+3 and that's 13 or one ten and 3 ones.

I am one happy mommy right now. We'll work on getting the math faster, but that's a minor issue now that I know she understands the underlying concepts.

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