*By Lisa Boate – Instructional Resource Teacher (IRT) Innovation – Numeracy K-8*

When I was a student, I hated math.

To me it was a subject that was a foreign culture and language. I could not see how this math language and culture had any connection to my life or the real world. I resented math. It frustrated me that it seemed some people were born with the math gene and were just naturally good at it.

My parents often said, “We weren’t good at math either. It makes sense that it’s not your thing.” This idea seems to be the prevailing social norm, you are either good at math or you’re not. You can’t learn it if you aren’t genetically predisposed so don’t even bother, just leave all that hard stuff to ‘the mathies!”

I believed that these ideas were true, until the day I realized that through teaching math, I was getting better at it, I was understanding it more. If it was true that I just didn’t get it, then how was it possible that I was beginning to learn new things, dare I say, even like math?

The missing piece for me as a student was that math is real. It is the way we represent what is happening in the real world with numbers. The picture above is from a video called Beauty of Mathematics, which clearly shows the connection between the real world and the world of numbers.

In the picture in the right frame, we see snow falling (something we all can relate to!), then we see the drawing of the event in the centre. Finally, we see the algorithm that describes the falling of snow in the left frame. I may not yet be able to use that algorithm, but the fact that it exists is exciting!

All those years ago, had I known that those numbers that I was so disconnected from actually represented something real, my whole perspective would have changed. If I had known that I could draw or build the idea that I was trying to represent with numbers, I would have better understood the concept I was trying to represent. Adding fractions is a perfect example. When I just looked at the numbers on a page, they made no sense to me, but when I was baking a birthday cake and needed to double the recipe, I could use the measuring cup to see what double the amount of flour was. I was adding fractions and not even realizing it!

We need to ignite the curiosity that our students naturally possess. We need them to wonder why when you multiply two negatives, you get a positive, and then search out the answer! We need to provide our students with the opportunities to be mathematicians, to see the wonder and beauty in the relationship between numbers. No longer can we accept “I’m not good at math!” We as a community – parents, teachers and peers – need to change that inner dialogue to “I don’t get it yet, but what a cool idea, I’m going to work at it and figure it out!”

Lisa, you’ve really connected some dots for me. Mathematics, as it connects to real life is about ‘turning to wonder’. Children can do this so easily if adults join them. Your snowflake example is a good one! The beauty children can find within the variations and mystery of each unique snowflake, not to mention the joy they find in large mounds of the stuff, can certainly teach us to turn to wonder. Using phrases like ‘I wonder how…’ or ‘What if…’ will help us help children ignite their own curiosity. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Love this post! I find it gets the kids excited when we say we are “living our lives as mathematicians” and are looking at the world through our math eyes (great idea I got from our math inquiry today). @patmjohnson