M is for…

Spoiler alert:

mathalicious crew

{This is last year at NCTM with Matt Lane, Karim Ani, and Ginny Stuckey – the Mathalicious crew I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a little bit. I’d realized they were missing from my math friends wall in my classroom – the shame! Glad I had a chance to get that taken care of!}

If you are someone who knows me at all or who follows me on twitter, it should probably come as no surprise that M is for Mathalicious. (Fun fact, I meant to write this during the MTBOS initiation in, ahem, January during “my favorites” week, but, life… So if you prefer, this is also a very belated, “M is for My favorite”). If you aren’t familiar with Mathalicious, first of all, what are you waiting for? Go to their site. You can use this link to sign up for a trial if you want. Enjoy and have tons of fun and great conversations in your math class. It is definitely one of the best things that I do in my classroom.

But what is Mathalicious anyway? Here’s how I would describe it. Mathalicious writes lessons that are grounded in real world contexts. More than just a vehicle to “do the math,” they also provide a broader look at why we should care about the math. I would say that some of the lessons are more “mathy” than others. Some of them have contexts that are really relatable to middle/high schoolers – movies, shopping, etc. Other lessons have contexts that maybe aren’t seemingly as relatable, but allow for really important conversations to happen (municipal fines, health insurance, distracted driving, etc). Some of these topics don’t seem – at first look – to be ones for middle schoolers to be discussing in math class. But why shouldn’t they be!?

There are a lot of wonderful resources available to math teachers, and I try to take advantage of all of them. For whatever reason though, I’ve just found the biggest connection with Mathalicious lessons. They are something that definitely makes my classroom special. It’s hard to put my finger on it, really, what makes them so special. I think it really comes down to the conversations that they allow, in fact, encourage me to have. I think the ability to take whatever concept we are working on and give the kiddos a reason for learning it, but then go beyond just context into questions that deal with fairness and whatnot is pretty unique. I have tried to make curiosity a theme in my classroom ever since the first time I heard Dan Meyer speak. Mathalicious lessons definitely help to foster this curiosity. My students ask great questions – a lot of them that I couldn’t even anticipate, and definitely can’t answer. But that’s cool, and I make sure I tell the kiddos that I think it’s cool.

But don’t just take it from me, here’s what some of my 6th graders said. (More about them later.) We had a new student join our class and we said something about Mathalicious. She wanted – understandably – to know what the heck it was. So here’s some of what they told her:

The lessons are based on fun real world situations to make the world an awesome place – KK

Mathalicious is a company who creates mathematical real-world conflicts for kids to experience math in a fun and unique way. – JP

Mathalicious is a company that has fun, real life situations which has critical thinking math problems. – RL

Mathalicious is Ms. McCormick’s favorite website. It is a math website that makes you really think about math and different questions. It really makes you think -RL

Mathalicious is a company invented by a cool guy who is obviously good in math. They basically take something from real life (like movies, tv, etc) and turn it into a math concept to explain something like fractions or graphs and stuff. – RD

Perhaps they’ve been brainwashed. Whatever. I like that I hear “fun” and “thinking” coming up more than once. If that’s their take away? Awesome.

When I embarked on this magical MTBOS journey of mine, Mathalicious was one of the first things that intrigued me. Julie and Fawn were (are) my teacher heroes and they often would mention it on their blogs. It seemed interesting, but I didn’t really know what it was about. Actually, fun fact, I think one of the first things I knew was the logo. I really liked the logo (still do). It made me want to know more (score one for marketing!). Ridiculous, right? But then it was Julie and Fawn’s blogs. I don’t think there was ever anything specific, just it was often mentioned and the classes always looked like they were having fun. I became interested.

My first real experience with Mathalicious was when I went to my 2nd NCTM in New Orleans. I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the company’s founder, Karim Ani. I’m pretty sure he presented 2 lessons (or maybe he did back to back sessions and I stayed for both?), but the one I remember was called “Pair-alysis.” In this lesson students are asked to calculate the number of combinations of design your own Nikes that you could make. I remember that he started the lesson by asking who had looked at those Nikes and designed their dream pair and most of the room raised their hands (I’d never heard of them). Then he asked how many had followed through with a purchase and most of the hands went down. Instantly, people were hooked- it was already a relatable context and one of the points of the lesson had just been shown during the hook. During the lesson, not only did Karim go through the math, he also discussed the bigger point of how having more options actually makes making a decision difficult. It was so interesting to me to see what was there beyond the math. Later that day I was in the exhibit hall and I stopped by the Mathalicious table. They asked if I wanted a trial, and of course I said yes. When I got back to school, I jumped in with both feet!

It was April, so school was wrapping up and I was trying to teach way too much in way too short a time. Statistics, which is what we were working on, isn’t really a strong point for me. Being able to engage the students with these amazing new lessons was perfect. No surprise, the first one I did was “Pair-alysis.” I was lucky that my trial lasted until school was over, and we took full advantage, especially in my 7th grade class. One of my students that year wrote me a thank you note at the end of the year, and in it she said how she hoped we’d get to do more Mathalicious in 8th grade.

We definitely did a ton more that year in 8th grade. I used it with my other classes a little bit, but my 8th graders were hooked, and so was I. We used the lessons as often as we could. At the end of that year I had them write letters to the principal. The assignment was to write persuasive notes about why she should renew my subscription. I found the letters kind of hilarious. I had taught those kids since 5th grade, and to “hear” the formality of the letters cracked me up. Here are some of the comments from those precious letters:

In the time that my class and I have used it, I have discovered a whole new way of thinking about math not only in the classroom, but in all circumstances of life. Mathalicious is a wonderful way to encourage students of all ages to look at math in a whole new light. I have grown a great liking for the program because it has helped me better understand a variety of math topics. – MM

Mathalicious is a good learning tool and we should keep on using it because it keeps us engaged in math by helping us to learn in an innovative way. – FH

Teachers should continue to use Mathalicious because it is engaging, fun, and math based. Also, it is exciting to share thoughts that contribute to the topic because it is your personal idea. -AH

I love Mathalicious! We do different activities that are fun and they help us learn about math without us even knowing. It helps our class learn together about complicated math. Mathalicious is a fun and easy way to learn about math. – JK

I like how it uses interactions with real life situations and pop culture. It makes math class awesome. – SC

Mathalicious also helps students engage more actively in math class because of the fun and interesting topics and activities. -EH

Let’s face it, Mathalicious is way more interesting than copying endless amounts of problems in a textbook! – JC

I never gave those letters to the principal, because I ended up leaving that school. She totally would have been convinced, though, don’t you think?

I continued with my subscription when I started at a new school last year. To be honest, I didn’t use it as much as I’d have liked because I had no curriculum and was making stuff up as I went along for all 4 classes. This year, however, I started things out right – Mathalicious from day 1. I have various levels of enthusiasm from my different groups. It makes me curious if this is because of the lessons I’ve chosen for them that some have gotten into it more than others? Do I present them somehow differently? Is it just the different personalities of the kids? I don’t know. Seventh and eighth grade enjoy them and will work hard at them, but no one on the planet (bold statement) loves Mathalicious like my 6th graders. Among other things, they have decided that they would like to complete all 133 lessons on the site. They like to consider Karim their friend, want me to email him questions all the time, and think he should come hang out with them sometime. There has also been talk of a Mathalicious club for them to come back to when they are in HS, just so we can be sure to finish all 133. God bless ‘em 🙂 Kids are silly (and awesome).

Yesterday during lunch I saw this tweet:

A ton of kids were in my room, so I asked them. I immediately loved how they all just started responding with different ones – even one of the kids who was working with a different teacher overheard and piped in. I adore how they have connected with the lessons. One of my favorite things is when, randomly in the middle of class, kids will be like, this reminds me of (fill in the blank Mathalicious lesson). That’s the best because you know what they don’t say that about? The textbook.

I had to think about this question a bit. I also realized that first lesson to try doesn’t necessarily have to mean the same as favorite lesson. I, of course, had some opinions. But as I formed my answer, I went through the listing of all the lessons. It’s always fun to go through them and remember different classes I’ve taught different lessons. It’s not as fun to think, oh crap, why did I forget to do that one this year? I realized I’ve taught a ton of the lessons over the years (helps that I teach from 4 grade levels they have lessons for). But I also still discover new ones I want to try. Just a few weeks ago I clicked on a lesson that I’d never seen, but basically had been wishing for for years. Total win.

Stay tuned, one of these days I’ll write another blog about some of my (and my kids’) favorite lessons. Until then – go have a conversation that matters with your own kiddos 🙂

(BTW, if you have never tried Mathalicious and are interested in my response to the question because you are going to do a trial, let me know in the comments or find me on twitter. I always enjoy chatting with people about the lessons!)