Make it Real with Real World Math Problems
It’s important to teach students math skills. They need to know how to do the basic kinds of things. But the real learning comes when students work on bigger problems, combining many skills, to navigate a situation that could be found in real life. Students need real world math problems to learn that math applies in so many different ways, not just in math class or just on a worksheet.
Last week my 5th graders worked on a problem presented in a video. The problem involved an eagle that needed to be rescued from a meadow. In this situation, the students had to consider payload, gas, time, and distance as they thought about all the alternatives to rescue the eagle and get it to the vet as quickly as possible.
Watching them work was incredible. They relied on each other as they collaborated and tested their ideas, talking through the possibilities of this problem. Their level of engagement was amazing as they used their math skills and in authentic ways, like people in the real world do. This was the real thing – all kinds of math concepts rolled into this problem. As they wrestled with the situation and the ways to save the eagle, they were passionate about their ideas. They explained their thinking to each other to convince and persuade that their idea would work. This was math learning at it’s best!
I think many times we get very caught up in following the script – whether it is the text book or the curriculum guide. We lose sight of integrating the skills into authentic tasks for students to solve. The real learning comes from using all these math skills in an authentic way. Students need to struggle and think about situations that use math. If all they ever see in math class are worksheets, how have we trained them to use their math skills? Just to pass a test?
Make it real. Let your students tackle real life situations that require math. Make sure they know that math isn’t something that exists in your classroom and no where else. There are so many good math problems in the world around us! Make sure your students know how to use their math skills to solve them!