The best way to teach kids math is not in a classroom! by Tola Salau


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Mathematics is the most beautiful and most powerful creation of the human spirit—Stefan Banach

I am an Engineer and a Scientist. I am also an educator. Beyond all of this, I am a mother. Last night, I was teaching my son how to calculate the surface area of a triangular prism. I didn’t like how his teacher taught it, I also didn’t like how the textbook solved the problems. So, I proceeded to do what I do best; I found a real life model of one and explained what the surface area was. He then made a statement about whether surface area mattered in the real world and how much of what was learned in math that was really necessary. I became sad, due to some teachers who had made math a dry subject, devoid of excitement of learning and discovery, our children were in grave danger of loathing it!

This is my conflict with how math is taught traditionally, especially here in Nigeria and I daresay Africa as a whole (I’ve seen what is done in other West African schools during my foray in consulting across our borders) .Math is just taught for its sake alone, no mention is made of it’s vital role in preparing future architects, engineers, scientists and more. It is time to reinforce the connection between the tangible and the symbolic—math comes alive when numbers appear as dimensions that you can see and touch. Shapes and angles are observable, and how they meet, fit and feel is appealing to the senses. In our Basic technology classes- where engineering drawing is taught, awesome connections can be made, as well as in our science classes, all subjects have connections to math in one way or another.

When I taught middle school— grades 6-8; (primary 6, J.S.1, and J.S.2); it was a harrowing experience getting my students to grasp the concepts of area and perimeter. At first, I expected them to memorize “P = 2 x L + 2 x W” and “A = L x W” and then solve problems. The thing was they solved then but often got them muddled up; perimeter for area and vice versa. One day I had the idea to break down the concepts in reality. I brought rulers, measuring tape and lots of string/rope for measuring. I divided the students into groups and gave them chalk to measure different parts of the room. Then we calculated how much carpet it’d take to cover up parts of the floor (in essence the area of those parts of the room). Then we discussed how much rope we’d need to cordon off the wall, wall to wall (perimeter in it’s true understanding).

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