How much cheering takes place in your classroom – or at your kitchen table – when it is time for the kids to do their math lessons? Not a lot? Maybe they should just watch the Winter Olympics instead!
Believe it or not, behind every Olympic medal there is an opportunity to challenge the misconception that math must be boring. If you know someone who loves games and hates math, you can help them discover something amazing: math matters in athletic competition.
Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are involved in scoring athletes’ performances. Geometry — measuring lines and angles – is important in mastering the challenges of games. Calculus comes into play when determining rates of speed using distance and time.
Kids that enjoy watching skiers, skaters, and other world-class athletes perform on the Olympic stage just might find a reason to learn their lessons if you can help them see the connections between math and the sports they love.
“Most students who are struggling with math see letters and numbers; they don’t see what they represent,” explains Edwin G. Owens, of the Pennsylvania College of Technology math faculty. Owens, who appears in the public television documentary Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters, encourages teachers and parents to “get a little creative” and look for unique ways to connect students with real-world math scenarios.
“Start with capturing their attention,” he suggests. “Many times, I think math instructors think that you can’t get to solving the problem until you’ve taught them all the skills. I think you have to capture their attention with the problem first, and then you can go backwards and teach the skills.”
Online resources can help you make those math problem-solving connections during the current winter games. The Olympic Museum provides a variety of teaching resources, including information and activity sheets designed to help students aged 9-15 learn more about measuring time and analyzing motion.
A “Mathletics” video provided by the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn reveals how “math – from simple arithmetic to calculus – is part of every jump, every spin, every move the athletes make on snow or ice.”
During this Winter Olympic season, try trading the usual fight over math homework for something more fun. Watch the games together with your frustrated students and share the math connections. You might convince them that math is more than misery; it is crucial for medal-winning athletes.
Jason Horton, a Penn College computer gaming and simulation student featured in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters, says “I want to do something that’s fun for me, something that’s new and intriguing that will keep me engaged in the project.”
One of Jason’s teachers describes him as “one of those students that’s always seeking more information and always learning, and always doing more.” Wouldn’t you love to be able to say that about your students?
Try something new to keep your student engaged in learning mathematics. Try a little “Mathletics” during the 2018 Winter Games.