09 August 2010

it's in the numbers

I am a closet math nerd.  Yup.  There it is...I'm admitting to my secret.  But it wasn't always so.  When I was young, math was a frustrating subject.  Some of the concepts "worked" for me, while the majority were elusive number sequences for which my mnemonic devices or word association didn't work.  It also didn't help that my high school math teacher didn't quite grasp the concepts himself, being first and foremost the football coach.  The "good" math teachers were reserved for the pre-calculus and above classes.  Then in college, I had the good fortune of hearing about an amazing math professor.  It took me two semesters to wiggle into her class.  She was extraordinary, using pictures and objects to explain concepts.  I was hooked.  Three more classes with three other outstanding teachers followed.  The infamous math "lightbulb" had been turned on in my head.

Now I see numbers and mathematics everywhere.  Of course there are well-known days of the year such as Pi Day (a widely popular day filled with calculator fun, measuring tape chanllenges, circles, and pie) and the link between shell construction and flower petals in nature with the Fibonacci numbers.  But there are so many moments throughout each day that jump out at me as unique presentations of numbers.

Take today:  it is the eighth month of the year, the ninth day of the month, and the year ends in "ten".  Ahhh, now for some geeky reason, this knowledge gives me great pleasure and brings a huge grin to my face!

Now if classes were in session for the elementary, I would task small groups of children to look during their lifetime of years (for me sixth grade is generally eleven or twelve years), and come up with how many more times this mathematical phenomenon has popped up.  No, it's not on a standard, but this exercise does do something that I believe is more valuable than just "hit a standard for the test".  It excites children about numbers and the world around them, has them noticing details in their surroundings, and teaches them organization as well as group skills.

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