Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Part C

Defining Connections
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Connections of Mathematics to Everyday Life

Children enter school with a wide variety of informal mathematical experiences and a natural curiosity about the world around them. Our goal should be to connect their informal experience to more formal mathematical ideas, using their interests and their world as a context for the mathematical tasks we provide. Pause for a moment and think about what interests your own students. The list is probably long -- it might include dinosaurs, building blocks, food, games, plants, bugs, our bodies, bicycles, toys, and much more. When we think about developing mathematical experiences around these and similar topics, we are setting the stage for the mathematics children will learn from the rich tasks we provide. However, you might consider the notion that students will also learn more about the topics themselves by doing mathematics around them!

For example, think about a rich task that could be developed for a unit on growing seeds. Students plant the seeds and develop a watering schedule. Perhaps they measure and record the height of the plants as they grow. They collect data by measuring the plants, and find a way to record their data (as in the example below). And, as they try to make sense of what they've recorded, they discover a need to organize their data. So, this is a good example of the many connections between a real-life experience and the mathematical concepts in the Data and Statistics content standard. But if you think about it -- aren't the students also learning more about seeds and growing plants from the mathematics they've just done? Pretty powerful stuff!

Below are the results of the first group who watered their seeds every day, measured the plants with interlocking cubes, and recorded the number of cubes each day for one week:

Students' Seeds

There was a lot of mathematics going on here. Students had to determine how to measure the plant. They had to decide what to write if the plant wasn't exactly one cube high. They needed to figure out how they would measure the plant on Saturday and Sunday.

After a long class discussion of the many ways to show how the seeds had grown, the students chose bar graphs as a way to represent their data:

Students' Bar Graphs

Watch the video segment (duration 0:15) in the viewer box on the upper left to hear a reflection from DeAnn Huinker, a teacher in Wisconsin.

Mathematical routines should also be an integral part of a student's day. Concepts of telling time and reading a clock matter more when it's time for recess or lunch, rather than an exercise on a worksheet! Taking attendance using student surveys, using tallies to take the lunch count, or counting by keeping track of how many pockets each student has helps students appreciate the use of mathematics in their lives -- and they are learning mathematics at the same time!

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