Connecting math to real life with LTP, a reflection by Rachel Blum

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Math has often been classified as one of those subjects that students either have a gift for or will never fully understand. But what if this is more reflective of the teaching style associated with math rather than the subject itself? The photo above was taken at St. Joseph’s secondary school for girls with the Form 3B math class. The teacher had attended the LTP workshop and believed photos could be used for math but just did not know exactly how. He handed us the textbook, discussed the current topics and left the details of the project in our hands. We flipped through the pages to find distribution graphs followed by the definitions of mean, median, mode and range –topics that lend themselves to participatory learning by simply using the facts from the students’ lives for data. The idea of a human distribution graph as seen in the photograph arose as a solution to incorporate photography into a math lesson.

The next day the teacher first lectured to review the material. The girls raised their hands reciting perfect definitions and correct equations for each of the measurements. They seemed to have a great grasp of all of the concepts. The activity would be simple—a quick assembly into lines according to their number of siblings and then easy calculation using the familiar equations. However, when we met the class in the courtyard and finished explaining the instructions and outlining the project, we were met with blank stares and still bodies. We pointed to the imaginary x- and y-axis, but it seemed that when we left the paper and pencils in the classroom, we also left behind much of the familiarity of the material. Their comprehension of the subject was sufficient to answer questions on the board comprised of arbitrary numbers with the use of the different equations but did not allow them to arrange themselves according to their personal information. The process took much longer than expected and included many questions that required the students to make the connections between their work in the classroom and the human simulation.

The project proved to be a success on a variety of different levels. The human distribution graph introduced the students to a highly participatory learning experience that enhanced their comprehension of material from the actual curriculum. In theory, the involvement in this type of simulation followed by the calculation and analysis of data could ultimately improve some individuals’ test scores. Furthermore, the activity identified the limitations of the current style of teaching. One student claimed this project finally allowed her to see an application of math in the real world. Too often math is taught on the abstract level of arbitrary numbers with examples that have no connection to the real the world. Many students simply need a way to view the numbers in the context of their daily lives.

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