19 Aug

What’s for Lunch? Math Homework, Duh

Posted in Book Reviews, Teaching

This might come as a surprise for some of you, but I’m obsessed with math.  Seriously.  In college, I took Number Theory, Topology and Abstract Algebra just because it sounded like fun.  It was.  The summer between junior and senior years, I got a used Graph Theory textbook and in my free time taught myself the material, for kicks.  Oh, and to this day, my favorite T-shirt has a picture of a Klein bottle on the back with the word “mathematics” in absolute value signs underneath.  (Ha ha!  Get it… absolute mathematics?  Like the vodka ads…)

But it wasn’t always like this.  When I was in grade school, and even for most of high school, I hated math.  I couldn’t wrap my mind around arithmetic that could be just as easily solved by plugging numbers into a calculator.  It all seemed so pointless.  There was no beauty, no artistry to it.  Or so I thought.

What I didn’t know in middle school was that just because you couldn’t add and divide numbers in your head, it didn’t mean you were bad at math.  In fifth grade, I was the “slow” kid in the math class.  The one who never got called on because by the time I figured out the answer, someone else had already raised their hand.  When the teacher did call on me to give me a chance, she would get frustrated at how long it took me to get the answer and call on someone else.  I thought I was the dumbest kid in the world.

But then one day, we had a sub–an awesome teacher who didn’t waste our time with fractions, decimals and other inane topics that seemed so unbelievably important to our regular teacher.  Instead, this teacher taught us about the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Rectangle and different types of infinity.  Everyone else was bored and rolled their eyes, but I stayed late after class to ask more questions.  That was the day I started realizing that math and arithmetic are two completely different things.  Maybe I couldn’t multiply numbers the fastest in the class, but I could see the beautiful patterns and mysterious ratios that made math wonderful.

Which brings me to the point of this post.  I know there are some moms and dads out there who read this blog, and others of you may not be parents but probably have kids in your lives.  I’m also betting that at least a few of you know kids who are convinced they hate math (just like me in grade school.)  Worse yet, they might even have crossed the line from hating math to thinking that they stink at it!

If that is the case, you must get this book: Eat Your Math Homework by Ann McCallum and illustrated by Leeza Hernandez.  This is the book I wish my parents had gotten for me when I was a kid.  It takes abstract math concepts and without dumbing them down, illustrates them with food activities.  How awesome is that?

One fun way to use this book is to throw a math-themed party and use the recipes in this book for the food.  My favorite recipe, of course, is the Fibonacci snack skewers!  For party entertainment, present some math riddles and math puzzles and have kids work together to figure them out.  Books like Raymond Smullyan’s The Lady and the Tiger are chock-full of awesome puzzles and challenging riddles.

Lots of kids go through life feeling like they’re bad at math, but they’ve never actually had a chance to experience math for real.  And that makes me sad.  I was one of those kids, but I was lucky because that fifth-grade sub and then a number of professors in college, opened my eyes to how amazing and beautiful math can be.  Not all kids are that lucky.  And that’s where books like Eat Your Math Homework can help.

What about you?  Do you have a heartbreaking math story to share?

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