A Wake-up Call for Math

A Wake-up Call for Math

March 20, 2020

We are all feeling it. For parents already frustrated about their kids’ time on screens and dwindling hands-on play, the coronavirus crisis isn’t helping. With large parts of the country stuck at home, kids’ daily schooling has to move online, too – a major part of their day that normally involves social interaction and physical activity. Now they’ll be glued to a screen for their learning on top of all their video games and Snapchat.

They say never waste a good crisis, and this situation is a wake-up call that kids need learning that is engaging, lively, hands-on and memorable – and that requires real thinking. There’s no question that the Internet lets us deliver information quickly to tons of people at almost zero cost. But we have to pair it with learning off screen – real-life interaction with physical objects, sights and sounds. Otherwise we risk becoming like the blobs in Wall-E who can’t walk (or parallel park, which we’re already forgetting how to do).

In 2017, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) observed 900 classroom lessons and found that only 8% required students to think. A lot of classwork and homework drills one skill where once students figure out the trick – e.g. moving the decimal one slot to the left – they just repeat it mechanically, without having to understand why they’re doing it. They get an A on the homework and move to the next isolated skill. Then on the unit test or end-of-year test, they fall apart when different types of math problems are mixed together. They didn’t truly learn the concepts fluently.

This is the very problem Bedtime Math is now tackling with families at home. We’ve been cranking for days – with our own kids underfoot – to adapt our after-school club activities to be doable for siblings at home, or for a child and caregiver. They’re now posted on our new Cabin Fever Math page. We’ve grouped them by Quick Hits and Deep Dives, with the time, number of kids who can play and key skills.  Don’t be intimidated by the fancy math words – all the activities have levels of content spanning grades K-5, and home is a great place for kids to explore bigger challenges in a low-stakes, no-grades way. Let kids dive in and tackle stuff that they would not get to try at school! They have all the time in the world right now.

The same thing goes for our nightly math problem. Culturally we all know it’s great to read a bedtime story, so why not do that with math? Every day at 4 pm EST we send out a fun little story about a kid-appealing topic – animals, pillow forts, chocolate chips – followed by questions of different levels that get kids thinking. All mental math, no scores or grades, just fun conversation – and research by the University of Chicago has shown that this lighthearted activity moves kids ahead by three extra months of math skills in one school year. We need that now more than ever. Check out our free apps or our sign up for by email to receive it in your inbox.

By the way, if enough families see how fabulous math learning can be, this could stoke change in our schools when we go back. Kids need hands-on, problem-solving learning there, in school, not just at home during an unprecedented pandemic. At Bedtime Math, we think this moment could be a wake-up call about the most creative ways for kids to learn. Let’s use this crazy time to explore math, to show how inviting and appealing it can be, and to start a movement for the future. Join us!

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