Diane Trantham is a creative, passionate math teacher at a middle school right outside of Atlanta, GA. She has taught math and science classes to students ranging from four years to fifteen years old. Her love of math and science has driven her to become an advocate of all things STEAM and loves to help students make transdisciplinary connections in their efforts to solve problems and engineer new concepts. Diane is a club facilitator and instructor for Girls Who Code and leads a group of future coders in her school. She is also head coach for her school’s Science Olympiad Team! Diane is devoted to helping students become expert problem solvers through the use of PBL, using real-world challenges.
STEAMPunksEdu is excited to have guest blogger, Diane Trantham, share her top 5 Math tools with us. Not only is she a Math Extraordinaire, but she will also be joining STEAMPunksEdu as a guest instructor for summer camp the week of June 10-14th at Middletown Elementary. Now let's here from Diane!
The M in STEAM
I was sitting in a conference one time at the very beginning of my math teaching career. I remember the instructor, a very hyper, animated man, asked a seemingly very simple question.
The first thing I thought was, “How does this man have so much energy? Does he not realize he teaches math?” And after hearing the question, “Is this guy for real? He is NOT asking us this question.”
Ah, the question. The question that changed my perception of math, and my understanding of teaching that subject, completely from that day forward. The question that propelled my passion for the subject into high gear. Math was never the same for me after that, because my old perception of mathematics was eradicated.
So, I know you are dying to know. WHAT could the question have possibly been?
Here it is.
“What is mathematics?”
Think of your answer to that question.
In the class that day, I heard, “Adding”, “Multiplication”, “Solving word problems”, “Working with numbers”, and several other statements very similar to those listed. Honestly, that was what I thought of math. It was learning how to work with numbers, right?
Mike Wiernowski, our instructor that day, smirked. He knew that was what we were going to say. He also knew we were wrong.
“What you have just described, is defined as computation. We aren’t meant to compute. We have machines that do that for us. Mathematics is knowing what to do when we don’t know what to do.”
Isn’t that what is at the heart of any STEM program? Isn’t the purpose of said program to help students become expert (or at least better) problem solvers? The world needs those. And as a math teacher, I had the unique opportunity to help students develop their inner problem solving self! Now, I realize that not everyone shares my passion for numbers, patterns, and the way they help us make sense of the world around us, but I do know that there are programs and some pretty cool websites that help us develop our problem solving skills and in turn help us help our students learn to be independent thinkers who take risks, think outside the box, and ultimately know what to do when they don’t know what to do.
So here are my top 5 sites for helping students learn to think about numbers in a way that will encourage them to become better engineers, scientists, doctors, contractors, designers...anything they are able to dream up!
1. Open Middle
Using the problems presented here, students think of basic operations in a way that encourages a deeper level of thinking. These aren’t your ordinary math facts. These make you stretch your minds and students LOVE it when they figure out more than one way to get the answer!
2. Estimation 180
Remember those fun games at parties where you had to guess the number of items in a jar or in a basket? This site has at least 180 days worth of estimations! Don’t think estimating matters? Try these with students and you will see that very quickly students’ number sense grows immensely.
Give this a try! Basic facts with a twist. Instead of clicking on numbers that equal a given sum or product, students need to click on the sum or product of two numbers also found in the puzzle. It is timed and is an incredibly fun way to think outside of the box when working with basic math facts. This encourages students of all ages and abilities to take a risk and challenge one another! Chances are someone will challenge the teacher, too, so practice is always a good idea!
(Yes, you can even work with integers!)
4. Which One Doesn’t Belong?
This is a website dedicated to providing thought-provoking puzzles for both math teachers, students, and families alike! There are no answers because there are lots of different, correct ways to think of each puzzle!
5. Math Arguments
Kids of all ages love to engage in arguments over who is right and who is wrong. This site presents students with different data over which to argue. This is helpful at all grade levels and at all ages because, let’s face it, we all want to be right. Help students verbalize their thinking. Giving students data, numbers, or patterns over which to debate can only lead to one thing: better problem solvers!
There are so many other fun sites and programs geared to help students develop into expert problem solvers that I couldn’t possibly include all of them here. What I do know is that while computers get faster and the use of automated programs and tools becomes more widespread; one truth remains constant and that is that we need programmers, doctors, scientists, engineers, developers, and more! We need thinkers. We need problem solvers. Without the M in STEAM, that wouldn’t even be possible.Mathematics is the study of what to do when you have no idea what to do.Mathematics IS problem solving! And one thing is for sure: the world needs more problem solvers!