Gingerbread Math

3 12 2011

A few days ago, I posted the following statement:

  • “Christmas tree up…(check)….60 gingerbread cookies (check)….1 gingerbread house (complete with a measurement and 3-D geometry lesson).. (check)….bring on the fa-la-la-la-la-la-la, mistletoe, and good cheer”

To which, one of my very good friends posted the following reply:

  • “geometry lesson? really? you take all the fun out of everything! ;)”

While I know she was joking, it made me pause and think.  Everyone knows that we learn math in school… right?  But maybe we don’t all realize that the reason we learn math in school, is so that when we encounter problems in the real world, we’ll be able to solve them.  Math is not a subject that kids should do from 10:00 to 11:00 on Monday to Friday.  If we really want our kids to understand the authentic nature of their learning, they need to apply the things that they learn when life calls for a solution to a real problem.  

I’m not sure that it ‘took the fun’ out of the challenge of designing a gingerbread house, when my son realized that the six faces needed to all share common measurements.  He thought carefully about the angle of the roof, and the symmetry of the faces.  He designed and measured carefully.  With nothing but sheer determination, he constructed templates that he used to successfully create his own gingerbread house.  He integrated measurement, geometry and ultimately life.

I would argue that rather than sucking the fun out of the experience, he validated the time he spends in class from 10:00 to 11:00 every day.  After all, isn’t that why we teach kids?  Not so they’ll be able to answer the questions on the test, but so that when life tests them, they’ll be able to apply their learning … and find solutions that really matter.

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4 responses

3 12 2011
Anne Porretta

You nailed it, Lisa! It’s not at all about taking the fun “out”, (although I know the comment was made jokingly)–it’s about putting the fun “in” to school subjects through relevance and real life learning. Sounds like the kids had a great time doing just that!

3 12 2011
Lisa Donohue

Thanks Anne,
You’re right – my friend’s comment was meant completely in good humour! It just made me wonder about the underlying beilefs and assumptions that some of us hold about the isolation of learning that takes place at school. It made me think about how important it is to help kids integrate and apply the things they learn at school, into the ‘real world’.

3 12 2011
Royan Lee

I know it is idealistic of me to say, but shouldn’t math always be fun? and I don’t mean ‘let’s pretend we’re not doing math when we really are doing math’ fun. I mean that math should be so relevant and purposeful that it can’t help but be engaging. our families have a lot in common because we value curriculum at home.

3 12 2011
Lisa Donohue

Thanks Royan,
I agree – It’s not like I’m walking around saying “Okay kids, let’s address expectation 1.5 and all make inferences as we read” – but it certainly helps our kids understand the purpose and application to the things they spend the majority of their days learning at school.
…and yes, math should always be ‘fun’ – I’m just not sure that we all know how to do that all the time and still keep in intentional, explicit and purposeful. I know it’s something I’m still working on.

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