Making Math Cool - Teaching Math With Manipulatives

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Making Math Cool

by Geoff White, B.Ed. (Southampton, UK)

* Available for seminars / workshops / Pro-D days

What kids see, they emulate. Let's make math interesting to kids, and give them role models, by talking up the personalities and making it real..

Sports figures, musicians, actors and politicians get too much attention from the media. But now, 2012 has been declared National Mathematical Year.

Ramanujan was a poor Indian boy who became a self-taught math phenomenon earning international recognition. "In recognition of his contribution to mathematics, the Government of India declared in Dec 2011 to celebrate Ramajuan's birthday, December 22nd, to be 'National Mathematics Day' every year, and declared 2012 as the 'National Mathematical Year'." - Wikipedia article

In the sixties Jack Kerouac and Arthur Miller made being a writer cool, Jack for his iconoclastic adventures and Arthur for marrying Marilyn Monroe. What we need to make math cool is some notoriety, Bill Gates and the character on NUMB3RS aren't quite sexy enough, but it's a start.

Math teachers may get a kick out of telling the Archimedes story, and the mystery of Fermat, but we can do better. Let's familiarize ourselves with the biographies of great mathematicians and talk them up. Ramujan, John Nash, Newton, Gauss, Euler, Descartes, Pascal, Einstein, are real-life dramatic figures. Robert Heinlein wrote about Slipstick Libby. I wrote an SF novel, Tetroid, featuring Terry O'Bannon, whose brilliant mathematical mind attracted the attention of Aliens otherwise indifferent to humankind.

Blaise Pascal was a child prodigy. He was home-schooled by his tax collector father. They lived in Rouen, France. His earliest work was in the natural and applied sciences. He made important contributions to the study of fluids, and clarified the concepts of pressure and vacuum by generalizing the work of Evangelista Torricelli. Pascal also wrote in defense of the scientific method, formalized by Bacon and initiated by Galileo among others. He invented a mechanical calculator

Galileo is famous for dropping iron cannonballs and feathers from the leaning tower at Pisa, although these stories are likely apocryphal. His work on gravitation revolutionized the way artillery was used in war. Later he discovered mountains on the moon. These are stories to catch the imagination of children. Let's use them.

It is our mission as teachers and parents to provide the appropriate materials and situations for this to happen, and sometimes just to get out of the way.

By 1998 the demand on my schedule had become so heavy I knew had to find another way to reach more people. My solution was to record my workshop on video. I willingly sent the tapes to interested parties I couldn't teach in person. The problem with that scheduling solution was no one could ask questions. Extra explanations were missing because I wasn't there in person at the white board. That led me to the development of a handbook.

I'll tell you more about that in a minute. You probably want to know more about the Mortensen Math system first.

MORTENSON MORE THAN MATH employs manipulatives to enhance the child's ability to visualize math concepts, to decode the mathematical language into spatial reality.

The best way I know to explain the Mortensen Math system is to talk about memory first. How good is your short-term memory? More importantly, how good is your short-term memory with numbers? Suppose I gave you 12 numbers, each of them seven digits long. Do you think you could remember them for an hour? Five minutes? Do you think you could remember them long enough to write them down, even right after I told you?

Not likely. That's because you've been taught like everyone else to memorize the hard way. The hard way is how most students are taught math as well.

The truth is the entire math curriculum used in traditional teaching situations, employing textbooks, relies on memorizing nothing but FACTS, RULES, FORMULAE AND PROCESS!

Our job as educators is to decode this mathematical language of symbols into a concrete reality. This is what the method does.

Order The Teacher's Handbook
for Teaching Math with Manipulatives
Only US$79, by e-mail (I use Paypal)

E-Mail: geoff @

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| Purchasing Dilemmas | Products/Price List | Comparing Methods | Understanding | Mental Images | A Fractions Example | Psychological Principles at Work | Self-Esteem - Teacher's Role | Acquiring Meaning | A Philosophy of Teaching Math | Main Page