Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Math Talk

A Title teacher, Lisa, sent staff Dan Meyer's "Curriculum Makeover" video.

Dan analyzes his high school students' lack of initiative, perseverance, and retention.  Surprisingly and somewhat agreeably, these elements all apply to the elementary school students.  It is not only in math, though.  In any activities and social interactions, it almost seems like students were born without initiatives, perseverance, and retention.  Good news is kids were not born without them.  Most likely our fast paced life made them act the way they act.  In other words, it is more like environmental cause.

Dan talks about some hopeful and helpful suggestions, too.  First, Dan suggests using multimedia to let students build the problem.   Multimedia enables students to make bridges between math concepts and the students' own life way easier than before.  Take advantage of it!  One photo or a segment of video will motivate their active participation.  Another example Dan showed in the video is the "shortened" question.  He eliminated most of the mathematical information and steps out of the problem.  The only part he showed to his students was the situation.  It gives students more opportunities to discuss the topic as a part of their lives.  Students are not required to be a math wiz, but a good communicator and team mate.  They are engaging into themselves into the subject by actively participating in the discussion.  The last suggestion is to be less helpful.  Let them talk.  Let them work.  Deeper students involvement will promote students' initiative, perseverance, and retention.

Then, I paused.  But, still, kids, especially in the elementary school, need to master basic facts....

There is a way students memorize multiplication facts in Japan, called, "九九" (pronounced Kuku) translated in Chinese characters as "nine/nine").  Practically, what they memorize is from times 1 to times 9.  If you have these facts, you can do times 10, 11, 12 without any problems.  It is not a song, but it is like a chant.  All 2nd grade students in Japan memorize multiplication facts with KuKu by the end of the year.  No excuse.  No exception.  If you miss this opportunity, you will fall far behind.  Stakes are high among parents of 2nd grade.  I have wondered how American students memorize multiplication without KuKu, so I googled it.  All the results were lame.  I visited the Kahn Academy website.  One of the comments under the "Memorizing Multiplication Table" video asks, "So how do you memorize multiplication facts?"  There are some replies that vary from making up songs to reading multiplication facts poems.  These variety of answers are not consistent and concrete.  These diverse suggestions seems like a reflection of our nation; a melting pot.  Too many individuals!  Maybe if Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber promote a multiplication song, kids all over the country would master multiplication facts in no time.  Really, I am dead serious. 

In the teachers' study group, Lisa shared some mental computational math games including multiplication.  The multiplication's development is from counting, skip counting, and to mastering.  There is some skip counting in Japanese math, however, the teachers there don't take too much time on it because most students memorize the facts fairly quickly.  The concept building comes after memorization.  For some Japanese students who delay cognitive understanding, memorization is a life saver.  They go up to the next grade level with at least math facts.  Chances are; they will experience the light bulb moment at one point of their schooling.  So they nail multiplication facts with KuKu very hard.  For those kids, memorizing song like KuKu is way easier than memorizing random numbers (for them) of skip counting.

The games Lisa is using is hands on and motivational for kids.  10 minutes of daily game time will help develop their number sense for sure.  Perhaps these kids who are exposed those games might memorize multiplication facts easier since they have a more flexible brain.  I would like to try some of these games in my class soon and see how the students respond.  Prior to starting these games, there are some challenges to solve like management and routine.  Learning always excites me.  I would love to see something new.  I cannot wait for a discussion with Lisa and our team about the students response and reflection from new games!  In the mean time, I am about to write a letter to Gaga.....