Why are children in the United States having trouble keeping up with their global peers in regard to mathematics? Students in grades 4-8 have been scoring below their international counterparts on a consistent basis, according to studies by the American Institutes for Research. This trend is reflected even more dramatically by the time U.S. kids traipse the halls of high school.
Some children love math, while others never develop that crush. For many, the intrigue wanes quickly. Why? And, what can we do about this disheartening trend?
“For those of us who have been intoxicated by the powers and possibilities of mathematics, the mystery isn’t why that fascination developed but why it isn’t universal,” said New York Times reviewer Edward Rothstein in an article about MoMath, the exciting new $15 million Museum of Mathematics that opened Dec. 15th in Manhattan.
The math museum – the first of its kind – may be small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but its announcement on my news feed was a little ray of sunshine on a dreary day in South Carolina.
MoMath’s target audience is for grades 4-8. It’s a “proselytizing museum,” says Rothstein, designed to convince visitors that math can be jolly good fun – engaging at the very least. I imagine the museum would be a good field trip destination for elementary and middle school students; however, I suspect my husband, a Furman University math professor, would enjoy the place, too.
Dr. Jo Boaler – Stanford University math education professor and former Marie Curie Foundation chair in England – also addresses mathematics’ sullied reputation in her book “What’s Math Got to Do with It?” In her publication, the award-winning math education researcher offers parental advice, study strategies, and thoughtful classroom approaches to show how “parents and teachers can help children learn to love their least favorite subject.” Boaler is a prolific writer; her works include “The Elephant in the Classroom” and writings about gender, teaching style and learning.
While adults – yes, even teachers – often become jaded math victims, Boaler believes kids start off with a natural fascination for counting, observing patterns, and playing number games. Building blocks, dice, interlocking cubes, matching games, puzzles, and numerical patterns found in nature are just a few of the ways kids develop spatial reasoning and foster an understanding of numerical correlation.
Inspired teachers, creative picture books, well-written text books (sans “recipe math”) and relevant hands-on work can go a long way in putting a positive spin on a subject so foundational to a solid education. Big Universe offers numerous online books to supplement classroom teaching in this area. Check them out:
A Few of the Math Titles on Big Universe
- Multiplying Menace: The Revenge of Rumpelstiltskin
- Small Medium Large
- A Square? A Rectangle!
- Counting at the Market
- Counting at the Zoo
- Counting in the City
- Using Math at the Class Party
- Using Math Outdoors
- Using Math to Make Party Plans
- Using Money at the Lemonade Stand
- Using Money on a Shopping Trip
- Measuring at the Dog Show
- Measuring on a Treasure Hunt
- Adding and Subtracting at the Lake
- Adding and Subtracting in Math Club
- Doubles Fun on the Farm
- Finding Shortest and Longest
- Graphing Favorite Things
- How Far Away? Comparing Trips
- Patterns on Parade
- Tables and Graphs of Healthy Things
- Telling Time All the Time
- Big and Little
- My Even Day
- Seconds, Minutes, and Hours
- Pounds, Feet, and Inches
- Pints, Quarts, and Gallons
- Sort it Out
- Teddy Bear Counting
- What's Your Angle, Pythagoras?
- Pythagoras and the Ratios
- My Half Day
- One Odd Day
- Crafty Kids
- What's the Difference? An Endangered Animal Subtraction Story
If you like what you see online, consider purchasing a hard copy of your favorites for your classroom reading corner. (Think of it as a Christmas gift that will keep on giving!) Each online picture book on Big Universe has a “Buy Print Book” tab option on its main page, which will connect you with the book's publisher.