Looking For (and Finding!) Math All Around: Part 1

We often tell ourselves and our students that math is all around us, but that can ring hollow if you’re someone who looks around and, to be quite honest, you don’t really see it. I’ve been guilty of this myself. In the past I didn’t know what to look for – I didn’t know what “mattered” – so I didn’t really see it.

So recently I started challenging myself to find and share examples of math in the world around me in the hopes of showing others where to start finding it for themselves. I’ve been sharing pictures on my work Twitter account (@RRElemMath) so you can go there if you want to see the random pics I’ve shared so far this school year.

What got me kick started on this mission was taking part in the #mathphoto15 challenge that spanned this past summer. You can scroll through the hashtag to see a huge collection of photos people from all over the world shared on a variety of math topics throughout June, July, and August. You can learn more about the challenge on the official website. There’s even a section called In the Classroom where you can share how you’ve used some of the photos yourself with teachers or students.

Most of the math photos I’ve taken since school started have been at Target. Stores are such rich environments for math noticings, and walking through the store today, the Halloween section was a veritable cornucopia of math imagery. I took so many photos today that I decided to share them across a few posts rather than tweet them out randomly on my Twitter account where they might get lost in the noise. I also wanted to take the opportunity to share mathematical ideas I saw as well as ideas for conversations these photos might spark with elementary school students.

My hope is that browsing through these posts might inspire you to share some of these pictures with your students. Even better, I’d love for you to be inspired to start taking your own photos to share and discuss with your students.

One of the easiest things you can do with just about any of these pictures is to have your students spend time noticing and wondering about them. I recently wrote a post about this for my school district. You can read that here. I learned about the routine from Max Ray-Riek’s book Powerful Problem Solving. In case you don’t have his book handy, you’re in luck because you can read more about the strategy in this short PDF.

This first series of photos all have to do with the number 4. (Click a picture to see and/or save a larger version of it.)

4-Bracelets-Crop 4-Mazes-Crop 4-YoYos-Crop

As you look at the images, what do you think a primary grade student would say about them? Hopefully they would all be able to tell you there are 4 things in each package, but what do you think they would say if you asked them, “How do you know?”

Would they say, “I counted 1, 2, 3, 4”? Do you think any of them would notice the rows of 2 and say, “I saw 2 and 2, and I know that’s 4”? Would you be surprised to hear, “It looks like you could make a square out of the 4 bracelets or 4 yo-yos”?

The quantity may be small, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to notice, wonder, and discuss.

If you showed them one picture a day, they might start to notice how 4 is always arranged in roughly the same way. What are they going to say when you show them this?

4-StickySpiders-Crop

And what if you show them this next image, but instead of worrying about quantity you ask them, “Which one doesn’t belong?” (h/t wodb.ca)

4-Notebooks-Crop

Would they notice the cat notepad is the only one with an orange background? Would they notice the Trick Or Treat notepad is the only one with words? How else might they justify the other notepads not belonging?

Could you do this same activity with any of the other pictures of 4 objects? Don’t worry if you don’t necessarily have answers right away for why each one doesn’t belong. The point is to give your students a chance to think of and, more importantly, justify their own reason.

I have one final picture of 4 that I love because it offers up so much to talk about.

4-PopUpSpiders-Crop

At first it looks just like the image of bracelets or yo-yos, but if students take some time noticing and wondering, one of them is bound to mention the spots on the back of the spiders. This might lead into a wondering about how many spots there are altogether. Someone else might notice the eight legs on each spider, which again might lead to a wondering about how many legs there are altogether.

The addition strategies for finding the total quantities of dots are excellent work for first and second grade students, and the multiplicative work determining the total number of legs is a great fit for second or third grade students. And all of this work is still perfectly appropriate for Kindergarten students because of the concrete image in front of them. Kindergarten students may not multiply 8 by 4 to find the total number of legs, but that doesn’t prevent them from finding the total all the same.

That’s all I have for this post, but come back next time to see some pictures of 6 and 8 in a variety of interesting arrangements.

4 thoughts on “Looking For (and Finding!) Math All Around: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Looking For (and Finding!) Math All Around: Part 2 | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

  2. Pingback: Looking For (and Finding!) Math All Around: Part 3 | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

  3. Pingback: My Favorite: Holidays at Target | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

  4. Pingback: Inspiration | Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer

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