When I first joined an IB school, I took on the role of a form tutor. I had the charge of twenty lively and energetic third graders, and I had to learn along with them. I did my best to understand the principles of the International Baccalaureate while learning on the job. I remember that I was as much of a learner as my students and discovered new things every day.
Being a language teacher, I was extremely comfortable teaching English and even the Sciences. However, I have always run away from mathematics all of my life, and it was no different when I entered the class. I had a very gracious assistant teacher who taught mathematics to our grade while I stuck to my strengths.
It wasn’t long before my inadequacies began to bother me. How could I possibly be the teacher I wanted to be if I avoided a subject taught in my own class?
I grew up in the armed forces, with all of the perks and pitfalls that came with it. We were always on the move, and I changed schools every few years. We sometimes lived in the remotest of places in India that did not even have proper school building structures.
I remember opting to be taught in English rather than in Hindi and was finally told by the school that no teacher could guide me in that language. I was promptly handed a textbook and told to study with the help of my parents. That said, I had a wonderful time learning in schools that were so full of adventure. When it rained outside, we took off our wet socks and hung them on the bars of the windows. We studied under the trees when the weather was pleasant. The teachers would occasionally decide to have coffee in the staff room instead of teaching us, which suited both parties gloriously. Those were the most exciting days when we played truant while still inside the school building. I look back, laugh at my memories and wonder how we actually got got through it all!
As you can imagine, while growing up, my introduction to mathematics was not the most sound. We were taught according to the syllabus, whether we understood it or not. Timelines would be necessary for teachers in those days. As an educator today, I know the dilemma of completing the syllabus on time. I went to numerous tuition classes to hone my skills. Needless to say, I did not have a firm grounding in the subject of math, and I shied away from it.
I now looked at my students from an educator’s lens and knew that I needed to do something different when teaching math. As a creative person, I felt the need to add some flair and imagination to numbers and operations. I realized that math didn’t need to be taught so very straightforwardly and seriously. It became fun when the students could use these strategies in real life.
When we first began teaching in the pandemic era, it took the learners time to adjust to their new routine. The adaptation to technology was a challenge for most, and the contemporary practice of sitting in front of a screen grew monotonous. As a school, we ensured that we included fun activities into the timetable to pique the student’s interest and keep them engaged.
I decided on integrating math into the fun activities so that students would begin to associate math with enjoyment. As a class, we worked towards assembling bird feeders with recycled materials as a project encouraging sustainability. Rather than simply relaying information on how to set up the feeder, I decided to exercise the student’s thinking skills. I challenged them to precisely measure distances on their recycled bottles to punch holes in their bird feeder. The use of the words parallel and perpendicular encouraged them to revisit their knowledge of angles and lines.
Learners learned the importance of being precise as they had to ensure that more than one bird could sit on pencils placed within the bird feeder. I threw in a couple of challenges to get their neurons firing as I asked them to convert centimeters into inches and then move forward with the activity. Mental math played a significant role as they had to perform calculations while working on the task at hand.
The project was a great success as the children learned about sustainability and recycling. They were very proud to have created an item that would help the environment. In hindsight, I don’t think they even realized that we had unified math and creativity as the whole activity came together beautifully. As an educator, I assessed their knowledge level on the spot and clarified areas that needed recapitulation.
This was a delightful learning experience for me as I could see how mathematics could be dynamic and exciting. This project was the turning point that encouraged me to explore new ways to teach math in innovative ways.
Math has become my friend rather than foe, and I am encouraged daily by the thought of engaging my students in even more meaningful pursuits which build their understanding of math in the world around them.