# Motivating Math: Helping 'Kids' Discover Math

August 26, 1997REHOVOT, ISRAEL--September 1, 1997--Question: What do you get when you take 25 children, subtract their textbooks, and add dice, matchsticks and chocolate? Answer: an innovative model of math education that has kids discovering mathematical principles all on their own. And best of all, they think it's fun.

The program, developed by Dr. Alex Friedlander of the Weizmann Institute's Science Teaching Department in cooperation with Tel Aviv's Center for Educational Technology, is featured on the cover of the September issue of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics journal

*Teaching Children Mathematics*. Friedlander's approach, designed for grades two through six, offers an alternative to the traditional teaching methods that turn so many children off math. Instead of technical classroom instruction, pupils are presented with structured investigative experiences that motivate them to re-invent mathematical principles. It also provides a way for more talented students to learn at their own pace, without breaking the class into groups according to ability.

The problem with conventional math education, says Friedlander, is that it doesn't reflect the real essence of mathematics. He describes the typical scenario: "A teacher hands kids a toolbox full of abstract concepts, then says, 'Here, in the future you'll use these concepts to solve a bunch of problems you haven't thought of yet and don't really care about.' "

With Friedlander's approach, children explore real-life problems using objects such as dice, matchsticks and dominoes -- "manipulatives" that turn math concepts into something they can see and touch. This hands-on experience gives children the satisfaction of discovering underlying mathematical principles on their own.

The investigative method addresses another problem common to elementary education: children learn at different rates, and more advanced students often get bored waiting for their classmates to catch up. Friedlander's curriculum units consist of a series of eight to ten math-based investigations. Children work through some of these investigations in heterogeneous groups, allowing each child to contribute according to his or her mathematical ability. Advanced students benefit from the open-ended structure of the activities, which encourages creative problem-solving, not just getting the right answer.

An example of the method is a learning unit on dice. Working in groups, children discover the "magic rule of seven" -- the fact that opposite sides of a die always add up to seven. Once the concept is grasped, it continues to work magic, becoming a useful tool that the children can use to solve more and more complex problems, such as predicting the sum displayed on one side of a "tower" of multiple dice.

"The key to success," says Friedlander, "is letting kids figure things out on their own terms. One child might solve a problem by counting dots on the dice. Another immediately understands and uses abstract concepts. In any case, the kids employ a whole variety of mathematical thinking skills. More importantly, they discover a need for the knowledge of mathematical concepts."

Friedlander stresses that his learning units don't herald the demise of the multiplication table. "Basic skills will always be necessary," he says. But the units may motivate more children to excel in mathematics, by revealing to them their own ability for original, mathematical thought. And if the goals of elementary math education can be achieved through such investigative activities, it may lower the incidence of "math anxiety" in older children and adults.

A big challenge in Friedlander's approach may be the one faced by those elementary school teachers who are accustomed mainly to frontal classroom presentation of mathematical rules. "We suggest that teachers go through the experience of mathematical investigations themselves before presenting them to their students. This way, teachers will get a feeling for the process of learning mathematics rather than simply presenting structured pieces of knowledge."

The Science Teaching Department operates under the aegis of the Feinberg Graduate School of the Weizmann Institute of Science. It develops educational programs designed to raise the level of science education for Israel's Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking students.

The Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, is one of the world's foremost centers of scientific research and graduate study. Its 2,400 scientists, students, technicians, and engineers pursue basic research in the quest for knowledge and the enhancement of the human condition. New ways of fighting disease and hunger, protecting the environment, and harnessing alternative sources of energy are high priorities.

Weizmann Institute releases are posted on the World Wide Web at http://www.weizmann.ac.il and on http://www.eurekalert.org

-end-

American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science

**Related Mathematics Articles:**

A new method for boosting the learning of mathematics

How can mathematics learning in primary school be facilitated? UNIGE has developed an intervention to promote the learning of math in school.

How can mathematics learning in primary school be facilitated? UNIGE has developed an intervention to promote the learning of math in school.

Could mathematics help to better treat cancer?

Impaired information processing may prevent cells from perceiving their environment correctly; they then start acting in an uncontrolled way and this can lead to the development of cancer.

Impaired information processing may prevent cells from perceiving their environment correctly; they then start acting in an uncontrolled way and this can lead to the development of cancer.

People can see beauty in complex mathematics, study shows

Ordinary people see beauty in complex mathematical arguments in the same way they can appreciate a beautiful landscape painting or a piano sonata.

Ordinary people see beauty in complex mathematical arguments in the same way they can appreciate a beautiful landscape painting or a piano sonata.

Improving geothermal HVAC systems with mathematics

Sustainable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, such as those that harness low-enthalpy geothermal energy, are needed to reduce collective energy use and mitigate the continued effects of a warming climate.

Sustainable heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, such as those that harness low-enthalpy geothermal energy, are needed to reduce collective energy use and mitigate the continued effects of a warming climate.

How the power of mathematics can help assess lung function

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new computational way of analyzing X-ray images of lungs, which could herald a breakthrough in the diagnosis and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new computational way of analyzing X-ray images of lungs, which could herald a breakthrough in the diagnosis and assessment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases.

Mathematics pushes innovation in 4-D printing

New mathematical results will provide a potential breakthrough in the design and the fabrication of the next generation of morphable materials.

New mathematical results will provide a potential breakthrough in the design and the fabrication of the next generation of morphable materials.

More democracy through mathematics

For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes.

For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes.

How to color a lizard: From biology to mathematics

Skin color patterns in animals arise from microscopic interactions among colored cells that obey equations discovered by Alan Turing.

Skin color patterns in animals arise from microscopic interactions among colored cells that obey equations discovered by Alan Turing.

US educators awarded for exemplary teaching in mathematics

Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray were named the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award winners by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for their teaching effectiveness and influence beyond their institutions.

Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray were named the 2017 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award winners by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for their teaching effectiveness and influence beyond their institutions.

Authors of year's best books in mathematics honored

Prizes for the year's best books in mathematics were awarded to Ian Stewart and Tim Chartier by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on Jan.

Prizes for the year's best books in mathematics were awarded to Ian Stewart and Tim Chartier by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) on Jan.

## Trending Science News

**Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News**

## Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the**top science podcasts of 2020**.

**Now Playing: TED Radio Hour**

**Uncharted**

There's so much we've yet to explorefrom outer space to the deep ocean to our own brains. This hour, Manoush goes on a journey through those uncharted places, led by TED Science Curator David Biello.

**Now Playing: Science for the People**

**#555 Coronavirus**

It's everywhere, and it felt disingenuous for us here at Science for the People to avoid it, so here is our episode on Coronavirus. It's ok to give this one a skip if this isn't what you want to listen to right now. Check out the links below for other great podcasts mentioned in the intro. Host Rachelle Saunders gets us up to date on what the Coronavirus is, how it spreads, and what we know and don't know with Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba. And...

**Now Playing: Radiolab**

**Dispatch 1: Numbers**

In a recent Radiolab group huddle, with coronavirus unraveling around us, the team found themselves grappling with all the numbers connected to COVID-19. Our new found 6 foot bubbles of personal space. Three percent mortality rate (or 1, or 2, or 4). 7,000 cases (now, much much more). So in the wake of that meeting, we reflect on the onslaught of numbers - what they reveal, and what they hide. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.