As teachers we continually strive to explain to our students how they will use the mathematics they are learning in their daily lives. Many resources provide examples of laying tile for area, building fences for perimeter, and eating pizzas for the division of fractions as real-life applications of mathematical concepts. I believe that by using some of these examples in my teaching I have inadvertently misled some of my students to believe that mathematics only exists in specific, discrete examples. I am not saying that the applications I just cited are not helpful, but what if students do not want to build a fence or eat the remaining 1/3 of a pizza? Does that mean that mathematics does not play a meaningful role in their lives? Absolutely not!
I need to stress to the students I teach, that they do not need to wait until they build a fence, eat pizza or lay tile for the mathematics they are learning to play an integral role in their lives. We do not learn poetry just to write cinquain poems in language arts. We learn poetry because it opens up our minds to different ways to communicate ideas, to express emotion and to be moved by words. In the same way, the skills that students develop by representing mathematical ideas through diagrams and concrete materials help them to effectively visualize, represent and understand diverse ways of thinking and communicating ideas. These skills are not limited to mathematics classrooms – they relate to many facets of our students’ lives including storytelling, visual arts, dance, sports, and social activism. In essence, students are acquiring key learning competencies which are skills and knowledge that enable them to be successful life-long learners.
Exploring different mathematical strategies and approaches helps us to think creatively, providing us with a lens through which we can view and appreciate our world. I know that I still need to do a better job of cultivating a mindset in which the students I teach understand and celebrate the fact that the mathematics they are learning has additional meaning in their lives beyond pizza, tiles and fences.
PS…Truth be told, I have never laid tile, built a fence nor cared about how much of a 1/3 of a pizza I ate.