Math is Everywhere!

Recently, I was standing at an airport baggage claim area when a large ceiling tile fell and grazed my left shoulder. At about the same time as I felt the tile, I realized that a very large brownish-black rat had also been on top of it. The rat seemed as surprised to have landed there as I was to see him. It began scampering among my startled, screaming fellow passengers.

I had a different, perhaps odd reaction: My brain immediately turned to math. How big was the ceiling tile? How much did it weigh? How close was the tile to hitting me directly on the head? How long was the rat? What was its speed as it scurried about? What percentage of people were now standing on chairs? (Later I also wondered, “For every rat one sees in an airport, how many rats are in the ceiling?”) I felt trapped in some version of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s book, Math Curse,  but at least my math obsession kept me calm during a strange ordeal.

Why this obsession with math? I’ve been working on a project with Roxann Kriete and Andy Dousis—a book about fun and engaging ways to use math during the greeting, sharing, activity, or morning message components of Morning Meeting. Not only has my waking mind become full of math—this project even has me dreaming about math games and conversations!

All this has confirmed something I already knew—that if we’re looking, math is everywhere. And although our book will lay out activities that can be done in math on any given day and do not require a visit from a rat, often the most engaging way to work math into Morning Meetings is to use events from our daily lives. For instance, after my rat encounter, I might have asked students this question in my morning message: “If I saw one rat, how many rats do you think I didn’t see?” Depending upon the age of the class, we could put these estimates in order from least to greatest, or we could figure out the mean, mode, and median. Maybe we could refine our estimates at math time by doing a little follow-up research.

But the events needn’t be as dramatic as a rat almost falling on one’s head. Yesterday I read that the average American child spends 7¾ hours in a given day on electronic media. In my morning message, I could ask a class how much time they spend watching TV or on the computer, cell phone, laptop, etc. They could later calculate and compare their class average with the national average, or we could graph their responses.

Here’s another example: In Southern California this past week, we’ve had heavy rains—more than fell during all of last year. It’s an ideal time for rain-related questions in the morning message, from the simple (“Do you like rain? Yes or No?”) to the more complex (“How much rain do you think our city gets in a year?” “How do you think meteorologists measure an inch of rain?” Or, “Our city’s average annual rainfall is _______. What cities do you think might have the same average yearly rainfall?”).

Helping students see math all around them makes math more engaging and meaningful. We can make the connections between math and real life in quick and easy ways at Morning Meetings. I’d love to hear some ways you’ve done this. And of course, if you’ve ever had a rat almost land on your head at an airport, I’d be interested in hearing about that, too!

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.


Tags: Math