Math and Kids

I love math. I loved it in elementary school and then lost that love for a while during middle school, high school, and college. I found my love of math again when I began teaching elementary school students. I love thinking about why things work in math. I love trying different strategies. I love looking at a problem from a different perspective. I love the puzzle that is math.

For many years now, ever since a math consultant talked about it, I’ve added the digits on license plates. My daughters know I do this and the ten year old frequently does it to. She’ll suddenly just pipe up from the backseat with, “24!” Then she and I have a conversation about how we each got to that number. Frequently our paths are not the same. It makes for some fun math talk.

We take our state math test next week. By we I mean my students. I worried that this would be the time I would hate math. That prepping for the test would kill the joy. That hasn’t happened. We’ve looked at problems and tried to figure out why someone would pick the wrong answers. The kids love trying to figure out the errors. I knew I would love that but I didn’t realize they would love it too.

Yesterday we broke our math time into 20-30 minute chunks and worked on different ideas. We started all together for a few minutes and then went off on our own. Part of the time we worked on number stories (word problems). I worked with kids who wanted help. One little girl practically knocked me over. (Actually, I accidentally knocked her over because I was so impressed with her I high fived her and she fell off her stool.) She arrived in this country over the summer to join her mom and older brother. An uncle brought her and they were detained at an ICE facility in Texas for more than a month. She was eventually sent up here and her uncle remained there (I’m not sure what happened to him). She spent a lot of this year in the silent period that many students do when they’re learning another language. But she’s always rocked in math. She didn’t need my help with math so I think she sat with me to help with the language in the number stories.

In the first problem she worked on she had, as one step, to add 99 and 94. She quickly did, accurately. Then explained to me that she took one from the 94 and added it to the 99 so that she had 100. So she knew it was 193.

She went on to this problem, adding 2,381 and 3,077. She added the ones. Then the tens, but she took two tens from the 7 on the bottom to make 100 with the 8 on top. So she knew she had 4 hundreds with 5 tens left over. Then she added the thousands. I love the way she notated it. The way she broke the 7 and wrote the 2 and 5. And especially the 100 at the top with the line going all the way around.

I love this. I love math. I love watching kids figure things out and grow their flexibility with numbers. This is small, all things considered. But it was huge in my day. Her confidence. Her knowledge that she had this totally under control. Her explanation to me in English. It was absolutely beautiful. Math and kids. Life couldn’t be better.

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