Math has an image problem, a negative reputation of sorts. If math teachers received a nickel for every time a student asked, “When will I ever need to use this after I graduate?” – well, do the math. Mathematics Awareness Week was established in 1986 with the hope of increasing public appreciation of math. It was later changed to a month-long celebration of math. Take advantage of this math month and explore the wonder of the world of numbers by engaging your students or child with one of the following activities.
Participate in the Sustainability Counts! Energy Challenge
The theme for 2013’s Mathematics Awareness Month is the “Mathematics of Sustainability.” Consider combining this theme with Earth Day (April 22nd) activities and participate in the, “Sustainability Counts! Energy Challenge.” Receive a certificate of participation for teaching a lesson on math and sustainability and even better, work with students and colleagues to increase energy savings for your school.
Ask Fermi Questions
Quick! How many drops of water are in a gallon? No calculator allowed! Nobel Prize winning physicist Enrico Fermi was known for his capacity to perform rapid mental estimations. The goal of answering a Fermi question is to find an answer on the correct order of magnitude instead of an exact number. For example, I would estimate there are about 20 drops of water in a teaspoon and 768 teaspoons in a gallon. To make it easier, I can round 768 to 800 and guess that a gallon has around 16,000 drops of water. Whether the precise answer is 10,000 or 90,000 does not matter for a Fermi question, what matters is the answer is on the correct order of magnitude (104 in this case). To get started, visit fermiquestions.com.
Write to Manufacturers about Metric Misuse
Ask your students to make a list of products at home and record the metric labeling for volume or mass printed on the labels exactly as they appear on the products. Then have students compare the labels with the U.S. Metric Association’s guide to “Correct SI-Metric Usage.” Chances are, at least one of the products will be metrically mislabeled. Next, have each student write to a manufacturer and either point out incorrect metric usage (politely!) or thank them for promoting good metric usage. As a bonus, many manufacturers will kindly respond to student letters.
Explore Math in the Workplace
Dispel the myth that students will never use math once they leave school by inviting professionals to your class to share how they use math in their careers. Take a field trip a local business willing to give a tour and discuss the importance of math in the workplace. Students may be surprised to learn how often math is used outside the classroom. For more information, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers a Periodic Table of Stem Careers.
Watch a Math Movie
What student doesn’t love a movie? From Stand and Deliver to Moneyball to Good Will Hunting, finding a movie featuring math content isn’t difficult. Get started by checking out this list of movies featuring positive math themes. Also, read Test Designer’s article on using movies in the classroom.
Just For Fun
Count the number of math terms used in this article! Better yet, have your students write stories or poems using math vocabulary and share them with their classmates.
Read our articles, “How to Write Higher-Order Math Questions” and “Top STEM Competitions – Could Your Student Be the Next Winner?” for more math education ideas.
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