Back to School, Mathematically Speaking
Reduce "math anxiety" by listening to students' math stories.
By Donna Iadipaolo
Many students associate math with anxiety. So one of the many perks of the back-to-school season is to offer a fresh, positive approach to mathematics for students. It is the teacher’s duty to demonstrate that students can have a healthy relationship with math. Start anew with activities that connect to their world in a non-threatening manner.
For instance, many teachers have students share their summer stories through writing assignments during the first month of school. Why not challenge students by asking them to describe their summer in mathematical terms? Perhaps create math poems. Since story problems are often a source of particular stress for many students, why not have them work collaboratively to generate story problems, reviewing last year’s material with a summer’s past theme. Even taking just ten minutes to have students reflect in their writing journals can be beneficial. They could write about a negative math experience, and/or an experience in which they thought math was fun. This is a way to let students know you are aware and interested in their past mathematical experiences.
Another great back-to-school activity is to ask students to figure out the amount of money they spent on back-to-school items. This requires students to collaborate with their parents at home on an analysis of their spending habits, and could segue into a larger unit on personal finance. Also, you might have students do an economic and mathematical examination of school funding. For example, you could have students analyze the average student appropriation in their school compared to other districts. You could also have students determine an adequate amount needed per year to fund a middle school, high school, or college student.
You can also look for project-based learning ideas in your community. Population studies of an area, as well as a demographic study, allow for some good data analysis, but more importantly show students how to quantitatively describe their surroundings. Here are more back-to-school friendly (and low anxiety) math lessons.
Back to School Math Activities:
Working with their parents at home, students estimate and calculate the total amount they spent to get them ready to go back to school.
Students examine how math fits into their lives. They practice writing and answering word problems. They gain confidence in test taking by creating their own tests.
Students compare sets of data related to school funding. They develop a realistic budget for what it costs schools to provide a "sound basic education.”
Students use 10X10 grid paper to solve various kinds of percent problems. This approach provides a visual way to understand the concept, and multiple approaches to solving the problems.
Using the skills of a meteorologist, students study weather maps and apply knowledge about weather trends to provide a twenty-four hour prediction for each of the weather stations in their project.
Students conquer their fear of mathematics through studying bridges. Students are introduced to “bridge” terminology and mathematical concepts necessary for studying bridges. Students compare and graph the population of their community.