# Math is fun

In the last post I have written about how hints are not helpful to learn Math and problem solving skills. What could be helpful though? We need to start thinking about other alternatives to solving regular Math problems.

Can we teach a new concept and ask kids to make new problems on the concept, rather than solving the given problems? Can they come up with their own word problems? That will encourage them to apply the concepts to real life situations. For example, when kids learn about percentages, they can think of many situations to use it such as 15% discount on some product, 5% price hike or percentage of their marks in the exam and so on.

Often we give all the necessary information to solve a problem and ask children to substitute the values in a formula and calculate the answer. There is nothing to think, nothing to wonder, nothing to evaluate and hence it becomes a boring task. Instead, can we discuss a situation, with lots of unknowns, where children get to ask questions, seek information and then calculate the answer? For example, can children plan a class trip? They will need to ask lots of questions like the bus fare, the possibility of a group discount, other modes of transport and so on. Suddenly it becomes a lively, interesting discussion with practical application of Math skills even if it is an imaginary trip.

One of the best Math activities is to watch cricket matches together with kids. We can do a number of calculations like the required run rate, the bowler’s average, the batsman’s strike rate and have real fun at it! You can see how the required run rate goes up when the bowlers are dominating and goes down when the batting side is doing well. Have you tried it anytime?

The following examples are from an Indian Math textbook:

1) The length, breadth and height of a wall are 8m, 0.2m, and 16m respectively. The length, breadth and height of a brick are 20cm, 15cm and 5cm respectively. How many bricks are needed to make the wall?

Hint: Number of bricks=Volume of wall/volume of one brick

2) A bicycle covers 3km distance. The radius of its wheel is 21cm. How many rotations did the wheel make to cover the distance?

Hint: Number of rotations=Distance covered by bicycle/circumference of wheel

I often wonder about the purpose of such hints.  The basic question one needs to ask is what kids are supposed to learn in the math class.  I think the main purpose of solving a math problem is not only to find a solution to the given problem but also to develop good problem solving skills. In this day and age having loads of information is not that important because information can be easily searched for on the web. However, the ability to apply that information to solve a problem is critical.

Our kids are going to grow up in an ever changing world where they are going to face problems that we haven’t even imagined. They should be ready to handle new problems and unpredictable situations. If the Math curriculum and the text books are designed to reduce the scope of the bare minimum thinking and problem solving, we are not letting our kids learn, let alone experience the fun in tackling the tricky math problems. These hints are supposed to “help” the kids, but in the long run, this is not helping.