Math in the Summer

Some Thoughts on  Math – Not Losing it During the Summer

Summer is a great time for math (the real thing) outside of school. Besides strengthening skills learned in school, kids can use and enjoy those skills in non-school activities, as well as doing new math. One way that this can happen is to be involved in a summer math program or camp (or a summer program that involves some math).

We have summer programs where children can catch up, get ready for fall, or dig deeper beyond the school curriculum. But if a summer program for your child doesn’t make sense, we have one big idea for summer: if you don’t want your child to lose the math they’ve learned, have them use it.

The ideas mentioned in “Some thoughts on interesting kids in mathematics” apply to the summer activities. Notice that most of these ideas involve parent and child. One of the most powerful educational tools is modeling what is to be learned. This can be done very well by professionals, but the immediacy and authenticity of parents’ doing and using math in everyday activities can’t be duplicated. Here are some specific ideas:

Pre-K to 5th Grade:

Talk and do math with your child in context.

1) Keep near the range of what you know your child knows (or should know) but don’t be afraid to push the envelope a bit.

2) Don’t make it an inquisition; instead have numerate conversations and encourage your child to ask you questions. Talking with your kids can be fun for both parents and children.

For example:

Traveling in the car – cost of trip, average speed, gas mileage, expected arrival times, use of maps, etc. (Personal editorial comment: DVD players and personal entertainment (i-pods, etc.) should be banned on family car trips – this is a time to talk together.)

Watching television – how many minutes of commercials per hour, what percentage, how long until the next show, etc.

At sporting events – batting averages, on-base percentage, speed of runner vs. outfield throw, etc. (varies by sport). For the older child or parent interested in sport, there are some fascinating books on sabermetrics).

Games at the beach or in the woods or wherever you vacation – card and dice games, strategy games requiring calculation and deduction  (Clue is a great summer family game), search and chase games.

6th to 8th Grade:

By sixth grade many kids have an attitude towards math: love, hate, don’t care. The summer gives you time to understand how your child feels about math and why. At this age, kids are starting to realize that this is their life and their education and they will appreciate a discussion where their experience and feelings are considered. If they say they hate math, give some time to figuring out why and helping them to decide how to deal with it. Usually this happens when there are gaps in their basic skills which compound into obstacles to learning new material and defensive attitudes. Such problems usually are not solved in a few months and may require outside help.

Kids this age will also be responsive to activities like those above, but conducted at a level that makes them think and has some useful outcome, not just answer quiz questions. If there are like-age companions on vacation as well, they may all be surprised that a group game/puzzle night can be more fun than just hanging out – encourage, provide the needed materials, and spring for the pizza and ice cream.  If there are younger siblings, ask kids this age to do math with them.

Grade 9 and up:

By this age, a lot of kids just turn their brains off in the summer. Many have jobs which might make them use their math skills. For most, a short burst of pre-school review in August will help. It might be an organized program, like The MATH Place +; it might be a study group of friends from school; it might just be self study either online or on paper.

One great summer idea that appeals to some kids is to learn just one thing. But really learn it – in depth, better than anyone you know, just for the pleasure of learning. This can be an intellectual landmark for many children, since school learning for them has been superficial and geared to passing tests. Some good topics for early high schoolers: Pythagorean Theorem; Fibonacci numbers; fundamental theorem of arithmetic, non-euclidean geometry. The Mathematical Association of America publishes a number of helpful books that are available through their website.

For every grade:

Decide to do or learn something mathematical yourself over the summer. Do it visibly and keep the whole family informed and involved if they wish. Read a mathematical book, use the internet, take a course. Some possible books: 1089 and All That: A Journey into Mathematics by David Acheson; Mathematics in Nature by John A. Adams; any mathematical book by William Dunham, A.W.F. Edwards, The Pleasures of Counting, by T. W. Körner, any mathematical book by Martin Gardner or W.W.Sawyer. There are many, many others.