Friday, August 19, 2011

Why Do I Have to do Math?

I remember when I was student teaching in fifth grade and I asked the kids a few questions.  First, I asked them what was they liked in Math.  I wrote the list on a transparency so they could see it.  Then, I asked them one by one if the items on the list were easy or hard for them.  Then, I went second list of what they didn't like to do in math.  I asked again for each of the items on the list if they were easy or hard for them.  My students started to see the point.  They realized that they liked what was easy for them and they didn't like what was hard for them. I then asked them how long they'd been doing the things that were easy for them and how long they'd been doing the things that were hard for them (I picked one or two things from the list.).   The connection started to be made...  I pointed out that the things they'd been doing a long time were easy for them and the things they were just learning were hard.  So, they needed to know that the more they did something (a math computation), logically, the easier it would get for them!

For some kids, math is not their forte.  But, they need to know its practical applications so they can use it throughout their lives and be competent in what they need to know.  I know many parents who have told me over the years that their kids will not need to know how to Algebra when they're grown up, but they will need to know how to do simple percents, addition/subtraction, and multiplication/division.  I am one of those odd adults who has used algebra all of my adult life.  Just yesterday, I was doing a proportion in my head to figure out how much my husband could afford for a new motorcycle.  I also use simple algebra equations often to figure out the missing number.  But, the biggest part of my life where Math comes into play for me is at the Grocery Store.  In order to be a wise shopper, I am constantly comparing item prices, price per ounce, coupon savings, and prices across brands.  These are skills I want my children to learn and as with any skill, my students would have told you that you need to practice it before it will become easy for you.

So, what math skills do children need to learn when they shop?  When I was teaching, I made a unit on coupon shopping for third graders.  It was a simple unit.  It involved making a shopping list, cutting coupons, comparing item cost with and without coupons, and paying for what you needed.  Recently, I found a supplemental math unit that teaches all of these concepts and more.  It is titled Grocery Cart Math by Jaye Hansen.  It is published by Common Sense Press, the publisher of the popular series Learning Language Arts Through Literature.  This book was published in 1994.  Surprisingly, it is still entirely useful.  I say "surprisingly" because technology has changed much of how we shop in the last 17 years.  The grocery store is one of the few places that hasn't changed as much.  

This curriculum is appropriate for 3rd-5th graders, but I would also recommend it to middle schoolers who need life skills practice of how to use math.  I wish I'd had this curriculum 8 years ago when I was tutoring a high school student who really needed practice like this book provides.  It is not meant to be a full year math curriculum, but it could be considered an elective for middle school, or a summer supplement in elementary school, or a year round activity to keep your kids busy when they go to the grocery store with you!  The assignments are a bit like a scavenger hunt, so as long as they will stay with you while they search or you can trust them to search on their own, it would definitely keep them busy for a few minutes.  This curriculum would also be great for a parent of a child who attends school and wants to supplement at home during the year or summer with some practical math lessons.

There are 38 one-page worksheets that cover math topics such as volume, number comparison, making change, percentage, estimation, rounding, and addition/subtraction.  An example from the volume assignments is finding what is sold in 1-gallon containers and comparing the cost of those items.  For each assignment there is a section to be done in the store and a section to be done at home.  The at home sections typically involve logic and reasoning so that students can understand grocery shopping.  On the volume assignment I mentioned the parent is to discuss with the child why some things cost more than others.  I was impressed by the application section on the assignments.  The at-home sections made these assignments into really useful learning moments rather than just plug and chug worksheets.

The one downside to this book is that is non-reproducible.  The cost is only $8 per book at CBD.  I wish they'd charged $10 instead and made it reproducible.  Copyrights and curriculum are something I believe we have to be respectful of as Christians.   So, what are your options when you can't reproduce a book?  1) Buy another copy.  2) You could three hole punch the book and put it in a binder.  Take a transparency and three hole punch it.  Put it in front of the page you want to work on that day.  Use a Vis a Vis marker to write on the assignment for that day.  3) You could have your child write in pencil and erase their answers afterwards.
That is a lot of work though, so it may just be worth your while to buy another copy!  I do tend to choose curriculums that are reproducible for these reasons.  

If you're looking for a curriculum like this, I recommend this one.  The pages look a bit old fashioned, but they're formatted simply.  Once you read one lesson, you'll probably feel like I did--"What a great lesson!" I know I could have written similar lessons for my children, but sometimes my time is worth more than the cost of the curriculum.  In this case, I think $8 for Grocery Cart Math would be a wise purchase.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this curriculum for review from Common Sense Press.

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