From Toy Trucks to Trade
Dr. Rebecca Klemm, a.k.a, The Numbers Lady, is an accomplished statistician, world traveler, teacher, author and inventor. Since receiving her PhD in statistics, she has specialized in explaining mathematical concepts via everyday language for learners of all ages. After teaching middle school and statistics at Temple and Georgetown Schools of Business she started her own research firm to analyze and explain complicated data-intensive matters. In 2010 she tackled an item on her life bucket list to produce a musical about math for conceiving of the musical, “Cookin’ Up Numbers” which she produced at the Capital Fringe Festival. Parents and teachers requested she not stop and devise methods to alleviate math anxiety and make it meaningful. She now teaches teachers, parents, and learners of all ages around the world about how math is meaningful in their own area of interest. She invents and makes playful learning tools and activities in response to questions posed by audiences. If you have questions for her to address, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Use your child’s interests to help teach them important skills while they play!
- Don’t interfere with your child’s thought process, instead guide your child through the problem
- Use household items as a teaching tool when playing with your child.
When I was leading an event at a school, I met a young boy who gave me a story that has become one of my best teacher training tools. John, a 3 year old boy, walked up to me and said, “Numbers Lady, my teacher says I can’t subtract 3 from 2.” Curious about his thought process, I asked, “What do you think subtracting 3 from 2 might mean?”
The young boy launched into his story: “Jimmy and I play trucks. I have 3 trucks and Jimmy has 2. When we play together, we have 5 trucks. Jimmy wants to take my 3 home with him and leave me his 2. Jimmy owes me a truck.” Jimmy’s story showed me that he was thinking about trade while playing with his trucks. Teaching him 2-3 = -1 would be meaningless to him. Owning a truck, however, was very meaningful.
Through play, children develop developmental skills, including math sense. We must be careful not to interfere with their development. Find out what they are thinking and guide them.
"Through play, children develop developmental skills, including math sense."
I continued to explore with Jimmy. “How many wheels will Jimmy have when he takes your three trucks home?” I asked. I watched the boy’s brain churning as he imagined and counted. 4 wheels, another 4 wheels, and finally another 4 make 12! I told him that he would soon create a method to count quickly when there is a pattern.
Then I asked John how many wheels he would have on the two trucks Jimmy would leave with him. Half expecting the response to be 8, I was pleasantly surprised. He said, “One of the trucks has 8 wheels and the other 4. Jimmy won’t owe me any wheels! That’s really weird. He will owe me a truck but not any wheels!”
I explained that the difference depends on what he is trading: trucks or wheels. If he is a “wheeler-dealer”, he is interested in the wheels and if a truck dealer, he is interested in the trucks.
“Do you want to learn a big word?” I asked next.
He nodded yes, of course. I said the big word: “fungible.” Can John move the wheels or the trucks around and treat them as the same? John opened his eyes, imagined his trucks and imaginatively moved them around with his hands. He said he would have to check when he got home, repeating “fungible” under his breath as he walked away.
Not only did John’s toy trucks allow him to consider how vehicles are constructed and move, they allowed him to form a cognitive link between subtraction and trade. Math became useful and meaningful to him.
As a parent, teacher, or caregiver, it is important to remember to teach in the language of the learner using tools that are meaningful to them.