Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Language of Numbers

Language of Math
Like most other teachers out there, I am not a math teacher. And like just as many, I never wanted to be one. However, the contemporary teacher must teach math. We are all expected to find a place for math and bring it into our content. How have we traditionally done this at the secondary level? Why, we make kids calculate their grades. Well, I am here to say, "Not good enough!"

Part of understanding math is being able to use the language of math. For example, you can't find a factor of a number if you don't know what a factor is. Math vocabulary is one of the easiest components of math to bring into a non-math classroom. You don't have to worry about student skill levels (which frequently vary and become further complicated by individualized education plans). Math lessons in non-math contents can be entirely about the vocabulary.

Let me give an example:

I teach both social studies and science. In my social studies class, we were looking at factors that influence culture. Google defines factor as: A circumstance, fact, or influence that contributes to a result or outcome. In math, factors are numbers you can multiply together to get another number, called a product. So in math, the factors are the numbers that influence the outcome which is called the product. I let me students make this connection themselves through whole class discussion.

After we have verbally recognized the connection, we can do some visual connecting. For example, make a math factor tree, and then make a tree which shows factors leading to an outcome. We might also write "cause & effect equasions."

In math, 2 x 5 = 10. Well, in social studies, desert x shelter = adobe if we're talking about the geography concept of human-environment interaction. Or Aztec-gold x conquistadors = war if we want to talk about cause-and-effect in history.

Other ways to include math:

Do you teach longitude and latitude or use a map with a coordinate grid in Social Studies? Well, these both use mathematical skills.

Science teacher? Analyzing data is an important science skill. Quantitative data is a large part of science and we can look at our data using mean, median, and mode. In fact, have students consider which of these tools will best help us analyze our data helps them consider what these words really mean and apply them in real world situations. 

Range is another math term that can come in handy. As always, make the language connection explicit for your students, and then start using the word. Asia is located between what range of longitude lines? Or, between what range of dates did the Mayan civilization exist? What range of measurements did we get in our science experiment?

Reading skills can be applied to looking at a graph. Read a graph title and axes to check student comprehension skills. Or, have students graph their own progress on a standardized progress measurement like Acuity, Aimsweb, or others. Research suggests that this graphing actually improves student achievement so you'd be killing two birds with one stone.

I'll admit, I find the writing connection harder to make. Sentence diagramming is somewhat mathematical in nature - but its complexity certainly makes it too difficult to make an explicit connection to math at the level of my students (6th grade). There's also the possibility of using paragraph structure to explain a mathematical process or reasoning. Any ideas?

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