Making Math Real

Tara is in 3rd grade. She has been memorizing her multiplication tables at school. She does drill sheets every day for practice. For the holidays, her teacher gave her multiplication flash cards. I’m not a believer in rote memorization. I prefer understanding math. So, we din’t use the cards for quizzing. Instead, she decided to make number patterns with the cards. After a few other patterns, she made this matrix –


Now that creates some interesting questions –

Me: Hey, Tara, what’s the sum of the first row?

Tara: 2+8 = 10, 4+6 = 10, so, 30.

Me: So, what’s the sum of the second row? Can you figure it out without calculating each card?

Tara thinks for a minute.

Tara:  Ohhhh! (understanding dawns). It is double of the first row, so, 60. And the next row is double of that, so 120. Wow! That was easy mommy.

It was also interesting. She already knows that 2X2 + 2X4 + 2X6 + 2X8 + 2X10 is the same as 2X(2+4+6+8+10). This was the same concept that was giving her a lot of problem when playing Dragon Box Algebra game. Perhaps the way to teach algebra concepts is to first teach it with actual numbers to develop mathematical intuition, then introduce x. Concrete to Abstract is easier to learn than an Abstraction of an Abstraction.

Math only began making sense to me when we started algebra in 6th grade. I was very good at it. That’s because I learn best through abstract patterns. I don’t need to connect abstract patterns to real world to solve math problems.

Tara learns through understanding and applying concepts. It is tougher to teach her because most of math resources I find, are tailored to pattern learners. So, I build her apps that make math real. After playing the games, her understanding of the math is deeper and more applicable than mine.

I wonder how many kids feel like they can’t do math simply because math is often taught using abstract patterns instead of real understanding?

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