According to World Economic Forum, top 3 skills that our students need in 2020 are Complex Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Mathematics is not just finding an answer or calculating number but developing those three skills. As a mathematics educator, I believe how students learn the skills not only depends on a mathematic classroom but also an entire school community which include a parent. The school community should provide that all students are expected to learn through active participation, and teachers provide support to engage all students in mathematical tasks. The environment should be one wherestudents are actively involved in doing mathematics. In this blog, I want to introduce a special school event that helps students to develop complex problem-solving skill, critical thinking skill, and creativity and creates a positive mathematics culture. The event is called ‘I Love Math Day.’ Every year we celebrate Valentine’s day, and it is all about LOVE. This is a great time to celebrate Love of Mathematics with students and parents.
Six Weeks Before Valentine’s Day
‘I Love Math Day’ starts six weeks before Valentine’s day. In the weeks leading up to the event-filled day, students work in small teams to solve four intriguing, rich mathematical problems. They are given one week to solve each problem and prepare a solution to submit to the judges and should be encouraged to develop traits and habits of mind such as perseverance, cooperative work skills, reflection, self-assessment, self-confidence, decision-making, and risk-taking. All of these will be keys to their success in mathematics. Submissions can be in the form of an essay, a slide show, a video, a poster, a game, or a dramatization. Teachers encourage all school families to attempt to solve each problem together and join in the fun. They hope parents and students in all grades will discuss these problems, puzzle over them, and enjoy the pursuit of a solution together. When students are stuck, or need a new strategy, let’s try to ask the question, “What do mathematicians do?”When students list things what mathematicians do, you can always say to encourage them, "Do you do these things to find a solution? When you do them, you are doing the things mathematicians do. You are a mathematician!" The below list is long, gathered from students and parents:
I Love Math Day!
Although it can be any day, February 14 is the day when students enjoy math-related activities and playfully recognize excellent student work after solving challenging problems. With several weeks of problem solving under their belts, students are ready for all the celebration. All day long, students are thinking about math problems, playing math games, and doing all kinds of activities that involve counting, pattern-making, and every form of mathematical undertaking. Parents and adults are invited to school, and students have opportunities to share their best submissions and explain their thinking to parents and adults.
Another highlight of ‘I Love Math Day’ is a panel discussion. Students meet a panel of two or three visiting adult who love math. The panelists share their educational and professional experiences and discuss how mathematics contribute to their work and personal lives. Students are encouraged to ask questions during the panel discussion to guide the guests’ comments. After panel discussion, students and panelists together participate in playful guessing games:
• How many cheese balls are in a one-gallon jar?
• Will the guesses form a standard distribution around the correct answer? (Usually not)
• Will the adult mathematicians be especially good guessers? (Again, usually not)
• Why are the adult mathematicians such poor guessers?
An assembly after the panel discussion also provides an opportunity to give prizes and awards for some of the excellent mathematical work the students did in the problem-solving activities. Awards are given for the most creative solutions, the best explanation of a solution, the best teamwork, the most vivid video presentation, the most beautiful poster, etc. The categories for awards should be varied and playful, the point being to publicly recognize great mathematical work in all its variety. Awards can be simple treats, candy bars, age-appropriate math books, math-oriented calendars, etc. Or a valentine (it is, after all, Valentine’s Day, but I Love Math Day could be any day)!
I believe the event like ‘I Love Math Day’ is a key element to build positive mathematics culture. By picking a day such as February 14thas a focal point, students, teachers and parents commit several weeks to working on challenging, rich problems. Through the effort to solve these problems, they grow as mathematicians, especially students. Students seek to make sense of problems, develop strategies, critique strategies, work collaboratively, create hypotheses, test hypotheses, collaborate. When they approach a solution, they spend additional time finding ways to explain their thinking and justify their solutions. Through creative presentations, they continue to reflect on mathematical content long after they find a solution. These are important skills and traits for students to develop as they become proficient mathematicians. The celebratory culmination of their work provides an opportunity to continue thinking and talking about their work and engage with adults who use math in their works and in their leisure pursuits.
Tips for I Love Math Day
When assembling a panel for the first time, it is usually best to keep it simple and organic. Parents in the school community are one of the best sources of panelists. It is fun to help children see that almost every adult uses math productively. Sometimes parents come to speak about a leisure pastime that uses math: baseball and statistics, travel and foreign currencies. Grandparents work splendidly as well. One grandparent was a carpenter, another was a retired teacher, and another was a judge. Almost any connection to mathematics can work. The more creative the connection, the more inspiring the event!
Challenging problems should be posed, and the school environment should encourage students to work on them individually and in groups. The problems should also prompt students to perform the fundamental tasks of all skilled mathematicians: ask questions, collaborate, use appropriate resources, draw pictures, make models, try, fail, and try again. Challenging problems are drawn from textbooks, articles, periodicals, current popular math books, and collections of problems, puzzles, comics, and cartoons. Sometimes students will need to work for extended periods of time, and often they should encounter unfamiliar topics. Students understand that each problem will be demanding and will require persistence and creativity. They also know that they can discuss these problems with their parents and teachers. Internet research is permitted. Anything that mathematicians would do is encouraged. Of course, like any good mathematician, they cannot present the work of others as their own. If they receive help, the help should be acknowledged, and the students need to submit a solution that demonstrates their own mastery of the problem and the math concepts involved.
Q: Is the ‘I Love Math Day’ math problem optional? Do students choose whether to participate or not?
A: Yes. It is optional, but we don't advertise that fact. We act like: this is what we are all doing in the next few weeks. Then we try to pick really interesting problems, that are naturally engaging. Then, we give kids lots of feedback on their work -- day to day, week to week, and then on Feb. 14 (or you could pick a different celebration day -- we just thought Feb. 14 made it playful and fun). We do expect kids to keep up with daily math class work and daily homework as their first priority. This is extra. But we rarely tell them they don't have to do it. If they ask, we tell the truth: your first priority is daily math work and homework, and this I Love Math stuff will not affect your grade. If you just can't get to it, we understand. I usually provide a little time in class (10 or 15 minutes 2 or 3 times during the week) to work in their partners. We try to encourage them when they are stuck. We give hints to guide them along. Then when we collect submissions once per week, they get lots of feedback -- all good. Anything they turn in gets recognized (at least privately from me to them), and really good work gets a chocolate kiss or a candy bar or a pencil or a post it pack. Anything that makes things playful and fun. If the whole class works hard, everybody gets a small pack of fruit gummies (cheap at Target). Q: How are teams organized? Do the students self-select their team, or are they assigned to a team?
A: We assign them (I work with the homeroom teachers to figure out who will work together well, and what skill sets might complement each other). We work pretty hard at this, since we try to keep the same groups together for the full 6 weeks. We have 6th graders working with other 6th graders; 7th with 7th, etc. We do that so that we can give them time to work in groups a bit during class. We sometimes get it wrong and need to change groups as we go. Q: How many problems does each team solve from January to February 14?
A: Four. I find that we really need all 6 weeks to do four problems well. Generally, we give them a week for each problem, plus a day or two pretty often. The schedule goes approx. like this: We introduce a problem on a Friday, say. It will be due on Monday, ten days later. But I would very likely introduce the second problem on Friday, before the first one is due. That way, they have the weekend to finalize their current problem, and can begin to try to make sense of the second problem. The second problem would be due on the Monday, 10 days after it is introduced.
Nothing magic about any of this. You will know what works best for you and your students. I usually find that kids appreciate a little more time for finishing touches on what they turn in, even as they start thinking about a new problem.