Making Math Meaningful
by Shirley Disseler
Some students just don't like math.
Or so they say.
But I have found that almost all students will enjoy learning math if we make it meaningful to them. That means building a knowledge base from real experience. The way to do this is to teach math in a hands-on way.
A simple tool that really helps math become meaningful to students: the LEGO® brick.
I’ve been teaching math using LEGO® bricks for years, and the bricks are the best manipulatives I’ve found for helping students discover how math works.
Research suggests that a major reason why students don’t achieve in math is their lack of motivation and engagement. It’s not what we are teaching that doesn’t grab students’ attention, but how we teach. But when you give your students a tool for modeling math concepts that just happens to be a familiar toy for most kids, you start your math lesson off on the right foot.
Students experiment with the bricks, trying out strategies themselves until they discover a solution. Studies have shown that students learn best when they construct their own knowledge from real experiences that produce an outcome. In the educational research, this is called the “constructionist” or “constructivist” teaching technique.
LEGO® bricks can be manipulated by students to help them understand early math concepts such as counting and cardinality. Models of addition and subtraction problems make the math clear to young students. Modeling with bricks is also the perfect way for students to learn the meaning of math concepts such as fractions, multiplication, and division. A student told me one day, "I finally know what a fraction is. I can see it!" That’s what hands-on math is all about.
I have found that when teachers teach at a slower pace, employing real-world problems and using manipulatives such as LEGO® bricks, students are motivated and engaged in the math. They develop a “need to know.” True learning happens when students want to know more.
In many of today’s classrooms, teachers are running against a clock to get as much math taught as quickly as possible. But it doesn’t matter how much math you teach unless you also make sure that students are learning the content along the way.
Making math meaningful to students is the surest way to engage them in learning and help them achieve. A hands-on teaching method using LEGO® bricks as manipulatives to build models of math concepts really works. Wouldn’t it be exciting to turn a student who says he doesn’t like math to one who asks you, “Can we do more math today?”