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Transforming Math Education: Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

As I work with and observe math teachers regularly, I see and hear how many students “do not like math” and how hard it is to get students involved and interested in math. Observing in math classrooms, I understand why so many students say they do not like math. Mostly math is taught as an abstract concept rarely making connections to something a student has or might experience. Too many times I see teachers showing examples to the students, students practicing the math concepts with the teacher’s help, then students working very contrived math application problems that rarely mimic anything students might experience in their lives or chosen occupations. When was the last time you went to the store to buy 45 watermelons and 30 cantaloupes? Yet, we still expect students to master the mathematical concepts in this very sterile method of teaching math.

Creating Context for Learning

Teachers MUST give students a context and reason for them to learn and use the math they are being taught. If mathematics can be linked to something the students have experienced or may experience as they go through life, then the math can make sense and students have a reason to learn the math. Please do not think that I am saying that there should not be good math instruction where problems are shown and practice working those problems is done by the students. What I am saying is, the teacher must give the students a reason to learn the math they are being taught!

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

Exploring Virtual Educational Resources

This is where things like, overriding problems, mathematically rich problems, and examples of how and when students might use the math they are learning is necessary. I am constantly looking for ways to take the math being taught and relate it to students or find common ways to relate the math to activities and/or careers students might be interested in pursuing. I love planes, flying, and all the math and science that goes with building and piloting planes. When I was younger, I taught some additional classes including summer school to earn some extra money so I could take flying lessons. I did complete my Single Engine, Fixed Wing, Private Pilot License. I was talking to a neighbor about my fascination with planes and flying and mentioned the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wight-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH. I told them that even when you cannot go in person you can always take the 360° virtual tour of the museum. This started me thinking. If I can take a virtual tour of an aircraft museum, why can’t I take and use this idea and use it in the math classroom to get students excited about math?

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

Making Math Relevant with Virtual Field Trips

I Googled “Free Virtual Museum Tours.” I was surprised at how many complete virtual tours you can take for free. Did you know you can visit amazing museums around the world for free taking complete virtual tours? For instance, tour the Louvre in Paris, France, tour the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, tour the Van Gogh MuseumNASA Virtual Tours, or NASA JPL Laboratory Tours just to name a few. I found out all the amazing tours you can take of so many places. Museums, Zoos, Aquariums, Art Galleries, and so many more without ever leaving your home or classroom. I decided to delve deeper into these online experiences and see how they could better relate to math and S.T.E.M.

Utilizing Multimedia for Conceptual Understanding

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

I then Googled “Free Virtual Math Field Trips.” I found some incredibly interesting websites that make direct math and S.T.E.M. connections. Sites like Global Math Stories, Virtual Math Field Trips, HMH YouTube Channel Math at Work Videos, and Ma+hnasium Virtual Field Trips were some of the more interesting ones that have a variety of resources to choose from. I realized that with just a little effort you could easily find virtual field trips and/or specific short videos that would link most of the math topics taught in K-12 directly to the students and their lives. I really enjoyed the Math in the Culinary Arts series of videos which did a wonderful job of the use of fractions and ratios in the culinary arts or Math in Fashion series of videos and the use of geometry in fashion.

Please note, I am not saying you should use a video or virtual tours on a daily basis in your math class, but instead they should be used to introduce a unit or an overriding concept. If you use these tools along with good mathematically rich problems, students will see the connections between the math they are learning and how they might use the math they are learning. 

Fostering Student-Driven Learning

Transforming Math Education:  Engaging Students with Real-World Connections and Virtual Adventures

For example, in Algebra, there are key important algebraic patterns. One of which is, the “Square of a Binomial.” I see teachers teaching this concept every year. They introduce the concepts by putting (x + 3)2 = x2 + 2*3x + 32 = x2 + 6x + 9 or 4x2 — 20x + 25 = (2x — 5)2. This is a great example, but to a student they hear the Charlie Brown teacher saying, “wah wah, wah wah wah.” Students see no connection to anything they have or will be doing. If the teacher puts this key concept into perspective for the students and show them how this algebraic pattern can be used to easily square any number like 722 = (70 + 2)2 = 702 + 2*70*2 + 22 = 4900 + 280 + 4 = 5184. This can also be done by showing a short video. Squaring of a Binomial Video. Students are used to watching videos and it is a change from the classroom teacher always being the person teaching the math concepts. If students understand the pattern and see a use for that pattern, then they will remember and more likely be able to apply the pattern.

Facilitating Mastery Through Connection

We must use the ways and methods students like and understand to get the best results. Today’s students are all about short, quick bits of information. This is a small part of why the Digital PSAT and SAT Assessments’ Reading and Writing changed from a long passage with multiple paragraphs to a couple of sentences or short paragraphs then a directed question about that short reading. Again, I am not saying this is how teachers must teach every lesson. It is just another tool teachers need to be using to reach a variety of students. The more ways you can connect the concepts being taught the more information that is retained by the students.

Conclusion: Guiding Learning with Purpose

In conclusion, teachers must vary their instructional methods to include online resources, videos, and make direct connections for ALL students to perform their best and master the concepts being taught. Very few of today’s students do well with the “Stand and Deliver”, lesson by lesson out of a textbook, or worksheet notes and practice teaching method. Teachers must get their students involved in talking and discussing the topics with their peers and much more student-driven methodologies as opposed to a teacher-driven method. My all-time favorite saying for teaching is a simple question. “Are you a Facilitator of Learning or a Conveyor of Knowledge?” Teachers must facilitate student learning, not dominate the learning. Including videos and virtual tours is just one of many ways teachers can guide students to the information that must be mastered. If they do take the time to make the connections to how the students might use the concepts, then learning will take place. Otherwise, teachers will continue to be frustrated by the fact that they presented the lesson to the students and the students do not retain the information or have no clue how to apply the material being taught.


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