A group of fifth graders are literally holding on to math. Their classroom is full of some interesting objects, and patterns everywhere. A window is full of a repeated hexagon pattern. A box of plastic interlocking gears is available for experimentation. And then, there’s the tricycle with square wood wheels.
Students learn math with these objects in Patricia Smith’s Bether Elementary School classroom.
It’s just part of Smith’s ongoing quest to teach math in a way that requires her students to grab it with both hands.
“I believe in them being able to take a hold of their own learning,” Smith said of the math exercises. “They have the potential to take charge of their own learning.”
The 12 “math problem” stations set up for three groups of students to explore, she said, are “different things that require mathematical thinking. It’s presenting them with a problem that requires mathematics to solve.”
In the square-wheeled tricycle, for example, students measure the side of each wheel and count the number of revolutions required for the tricycle to roll across a track. They also were asked to determine how many revolutions would be required for it to roll on a longer track.
In the gear activity, students solve problems using a set of plastic, interlocking gears. They are asked how many rotations of the first gear are required to make the last gear turn.
And at the hexagon window, students mull the question of how many same-sized hexagons, each placed side by side, would be needed to fill the entire window.
Several of the students said they were sometimes perplexed by the math problems and almost always challenged.