The Magic of Math … or … HOW I LOST the Bet!

Math. I remember hating it as a kid. It took actually TEACHING it to have the “lightbulb” turn on for me. I OFTEN tell my students how much I wished I’d learned math the way they get to experience it now. They giggle at that. I LOVE the way we now acknowledge that there are different ways at arriving at an answer and that understanding is key, rather than the memorization of formulas and only using the “teacher’s” strategy for solving math.

I LOVE that math should be a living part of our daily experiences … making meaning, sharing our insights and our personal strategies. When we’re comfortable with ripping numbers apart, because we TRULY understand what they stand for … the door to mental math and confidence begins to open. It’s all about seeing the patterns … and you find math EVERYWHERE. Not just during Math class!

Today, I had an awesome mathematical experience planned for my grade threes. But … we never got there … because … something else even MORE awesome came up “just in conversation”. It involved our classroom blog, which we check every single morning to see how many more HITS we’ve received on the revolver map, since the day before, and if there are any new COUNTRIES to visit.

This Revolver Map has provided us with MANY amazing AND meaningful mathematical experiences!

Some mornings, we use the Revolver Map to count up to the next group of ten, or one hundred … or EVEN the next THOUSAND. Mentally … using what we’ve learned about numbers … in our heads! This morning was a little different. You see, we had a BET … would we reach 20 000 hits by March 7th, or AFTER March 7th.

It began innocently enough! “Can anyone read the 5 digit number on our Revolver Map?” “19 391″Awesome! Hmm. “I wonder how many more hits we need until we get to the next group of a thousand?” “609!” “You BET … how in the WORLD did you figure that out in your head?” “Well, I made 391 into 400 and I knew that 6 more hundreds would take us to the next thousand. But … it’s really 9 more than that because 391 needs 9 more to be 400 so … it has to be 609!” Wow! “You guys are AMAZING! I wonder how many of you still feel like we will REACH that target by March 7th?”

It was interesting to see how they really started to “wonder” … COULD we do it … hmm. Some, including me, guessed yes and SOME guessed NO … not for any REAL reason in particular. And … then … someone said … “I don’t know … that’s like 17 DAYS away!” “How did you figure THAT out?” I LOVED watching the wheels turning. I LOVED listening to the conversations and how this student explained to us that he’d used the calendar. Suddenly, someone piped up … “that means we’re gonna need a WHOLE bunch of hits EACH day!”

We counted 17 tens, using the calendar to keep track. 170. Nope. THAT wasn’t going to work. Not enough. Someone suggested we try by 25s … nope THAT wasn’t going to be enough. What about 100s? No WAY … that was WAY too high! What about 50s? That was WAY too much, TOO! LET’S try 30s! Hmm … not QUITE enough! What about 40? Nope … TOO much! Watching these seven and eight year olds challenge their thinking was truly goosebumpy. After some discussion, someone suggested counting by 35s. Some of us groaned because counting by 35s isn’t as natural as counting by 5s, 10s, 25s or 100s!

We created a chart to keep track … so that we could VISUALIZE what was happening with our numbers as they began to grow. 1 = 35; 2 = 70; 3 = 105 … that all seemed easy enough … we calculated with our partners … we began to rip the numbers apart, (no more “old school” formulas … we were RIPPING the hundreds, tens and ones apart)! 4 = 140 … you get the picture!

Oh my GOODNESS … LOOK at our chart! Does anyone see any PATTERNS? Hey … ALL the numbers in the ONES column end with 0 or 5 … that’s SO cool! Did we see any patterns in the TENS column … nope … not YET! What about the HUNDREDS column? Nope! WAIT … yes we DO! It went 00 111 222 333 444 555 … MAYBE the NEXT hundreds would be 666 … let’s write it down, we can ALWAYS change them if it DOESN’T work out! WOW!

What a MAGICAL moment in learning. A FEW students were even comfortable enough to look at the 3rd day with 35 hits, the 6th day of 35 hits and ACCURATELY calculate what the 9th day with 35 hits would be without doing all the calculations in between!

A look at our blog hits … that’s ALL that it took … to discover MORE number patterns, to rip numbers apart for mental math, to learn more about the passage of time through the calendar, to uncover the magic of a T-chart … AND discover that we  WOULDN’T make 20 000 in 17 days, with 35 hits! But … we’d be very, VERY close and, if some days we had 35 visitors and some days we 36 visitors, it just MIGHT be possible!

WHAT? It’s RECESS? Just WHERE did the time go? Well … that’s a GREAT question for ANOTHER day! I LOVE it when math is lived!

Oh … if you’re WONDERING … I probably DID lose the bet … but … it was WORTH it!