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Teaching Children Mathematics, March 2000 | Go to article overview

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Experiencing Shapes

"This can't be math, it's too much fun!" was heard from Laura Ballerini's second-grade students at Slocum-Skewes Elementary School in Ridgefield, New Jersey, as they constructed models of polygons and polyhedra using marshmallows and toothpicks. Prior to this lesson, the students read these books: Shape Up! Fun with Triangles and Other Polygons, by David Adler (New York: Holiday House, 1998); So Many Circles, So Many Squares, by Tana Hoban (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1998); Shapes, Shapes, Shapes, by Tana Hoban (New York: Mulberry Books, 1995).

The inspiration for this activity was The I Hate Mathematics! Book, by Marilyn Burns (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1975, 57). According to Ballerini, the best part of the activity was seeing the interest that the students had in building their shapes. The students extended the activity by counting the faces, vertices, and edges of their shapes.

Judy Argenta

Ridgefield High School

Ridgefield, NJ 07657

Pokemon Math

I spent the first quarter of the school year attempting to do what many other teachers were trying to do: get my students to stop thinking and talking about their Pokemon cards during class time. I read newspaper articles that decried the cards as being tools of gambling and the bane of our existence, and I could not have agreed more!

One day, a colleague and I listened as my son, who is also mad about Pokemon, explained the phenomenon and how the cards work. We were amazed to discover the amount of mathematics lurking in those cards! Why not use the intense passion that our students have for these cards to teach them mathematics?

For ten years, I have been telling my students that they had to learn mathematics that is relevant to the adult world. When they resisted, I would challenge, inspire, and even threaten, by saying, "You must learn this because next year the mathematics will be even harder!" The NCTM's Standards challenge teachers to enter the world of children and help them make connections between mathematics and the world that is relevant to them.

Before I began developing my idea, I contacted the Nintendo Company and received its gracious permission to use the cards as I describe here. I also used my state mathematics standards to formulate activities using the Pokemon cards. I was surprised by how easy it was to create activities that would help my students meet the state standards. I began to see patterns in the cards and how they are used. For instance, on one card the students divide in half the number of HPs (hit points) that the other card has and round the result to the next ten. My lessons include having students graph the different character types with box-and-whisker plots to create the best deck.

My principal was very receptive to the plan. He confessed that "school math" had been difficult for him and that mathematics became real only when his dad introduced him to baseball cards. Figuring batting averages and other statistics made mathematics relevant to him. Skeptical parents who visited my classroom were quickly won over, and I have received e-mails from them expressing congratulations on finally using mathematics to captivate their children's interest. …

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