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Math is universal
Posted:
Apr 21, 1995 5:00 PM


Dear Colleagues,
I wanted to share with you an incident that happened in my 7th grade algebra class yesterday. The class is a class of 23 very able mathematics students whom I love teaching. Anyway, I have had a German exchange student for the past week in my class. Anna is actually in 8th grade in Germany but elected to stay in the seventh grade classes with the girl that is her hostess in the states.
Yesterday, one of my boys just noticed that there was someone new in class (isn't this like seventh graders). And, he was so surprised that she was German. And, was she really doing our mathematics? Did they have the same math in Germany? Could math really be universal? I could not believe this very bright young man's questions. However, I began to think. How many of our students really do realize that math is universal? Jonny taught me a lesson yesterday, a lesson I will not forget. I will now emphasize how, no matter where you go, and what language you use, variables are variables, linear equations are linear equations, etc. We cannot assume our students realize this. I thought my historical references helped students to understand that math is a universal language. Obviously, Jonny didn't get the message. I have learned I must be more specific.
I have been lurking during the conversation about 5th grade enrichment activities. I've enjoyed everyone's comments. What I have found through my many years of teaching is that students remember their handson activities. They remember what they discover. Topological concepts are not too complex if they are presented at the appropriate developmental level. I often tell my students that mathematics is like learning to read.
At first you have baby books with a small vocabulary. Those who have particular interests investigate big books with rather sophisticated vocabulary and topics. New books with new ideas are always being written. Some people will read little and read easy books. Others will read much and the levels may be very difficult. It isn't intellegence so much that determines who will be the great readers (although it helps); it is interest. Now, I realize that this is very simplified but my students seem to understand. When I do topology with them, I tell them that topology is a big, big field. I'm only giving them the baby book. As they get older and know more about mathematics they will be able to read the more sophisticated books. This is just my idea I wanted to share with you all.
I find my students very interested in topics in mathematics other than basic computational skills. I've discussed Zeno's pardox and they love it. They even develop their own. Even years later they come back and tell me the remember about Zeno. Again, it is these celebrations of mathematics that are not boring that stay with and interest our students. Oh, dear, I'm sounding dogmatic. sorry..
Anyway, I am delighted with all your ideas. We have a rich resource on this list!

Cheers!
Karen Dee
Math History Lives!
Karen Dee Michalowicz VQUEST Math Lead Teacher/Trainer Upper School Mathematics Chair Virginia Quality Education The Langley School in Sciences and Technology 1411 Balls Hill Rd, McLean, VA l994 Presidential Awardee 22012 USA 7033561920(w) Fax: (703) 7909712



