Example of math thinking that some people haven’t learned

Posted on February 22, 2015

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People often preach that even if we’re never going to use math in real life, learning it teaches problem solving and analytical thinking.   HOwever, almost nobody ever goes on to, say, give an example of that thinking that would be useful, which in my mind classifies it as a platitude.

I’m going to try to observe & collect the kinds of thinking that come up in math class that — if students could do it — would be useful In Real Life.   Last week the one I ran into was classifying shapes.   Student had flat out given up (but he has a really low threshold for that), but felt especially frustrated (somewhere between “am I this stupid??” and “this math stuff is just wrong; I know this!”)  because they were identifying shapes.

The curve?   The three shapes were squares, parallelograms and rectangles and they were expected to know that, for instance, a square went in all three categories.

I am thinking that 1:1 labeling is a close relative to not having “parts and wholes are there at the same time” down.   I also think it’s worth learning — but that it’s also worth teaching both more explicitly and more generally.   Hmmm.  Maybe start with things that students are more familiar with:   classifying animals, pets, and puppies perhaps.   The student grasped things pretty quickly once explained (and yes, the *big* issue for this student is not shutting down when the answer isn’t obvious) and I *think* it’ll stick…

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