When Math Isn’t Beautiful in the Eyes of our Beholders

I’ve been pondering the reflections of my colleagues who l-o-v-e math.  They love to play math games, be the first to solve a puzzle, and repeat the algorithms.  I appreciate their writings because they remind me of how important that is to convey in the classroom.  My experiences with math are mainly from a struggle to make up for what I didn’t get as an undergrad, trying to prove it as a grad.  It’ wasn’t a Caribbean cruise. Okay, so I see there’s beauty in it, but I can’t say thinking about math beauty naturally occupies much of my time as a math teacher.

There is no denying that classroom environment and relationships are hugely important, so it makes sense to capitalize on any opportunity to connect.  One of those opportunities, for me, has been to develop an appreciation for the beauty and mystery of math and weave that into our daily learning experiences.  I don’t believe man invented math. I believe it existed long before mankind had sand between his/her toes.  We have only recently figured some of it out.  These thoughts are energizing to me.

I believe, however, that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  Not many of my students spend a lot of time stopping to smell the roses.  They want action. They want to see exciting results from effort.  Those are the students that cause me the most work:  helping them to see the relevance.  Call it a sales pitch, if you will, but more of my students buy into the relevance I build by parallel thought process analogies than through any other hook I employ.  They see the usefulness through STEM integration.

STEM integration is not a Stanley tool in the toolbox.  It comes from knowing what kind of thinking is going on outside of our classrooms.  That doesn’t come easy to a high school teacher with 150 students.  I have had to rely on my memories of working first as a secretary, and later as a tech writer in evolving tech environments.  I’m also fortunate to have family members that are kind enough to let me pick their brains.  But worlds more could be done (in terms of motivation) by a math teacher teamed with a publisher coordinating with real workplaces.  This summer is booked.  Maybe next summer.

It makes sense to me that so many of my students are motivated to learn when they begin to feel what it is like to think algebraically and see how it relates to being better analysts (whether debugging code or fitting a splint).  It also makes sense that a few of my students enjoy pondering the mysteries of limits.  What makes the most sense, though, is to incorporate all those things into our learning experiences as much as we can to diversify and reach every student. Have you tried STEM integration?  If not, why not?  If so, how’d it go?  Tweet me your thoughts. I’m still pondering.

 

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