I struggle to find the balance between just the math and in a context. That’s why I love modeling with math. I have for years, tried to provide a context – a hook to grab students’ attention, and reference back to when working with “just the math.”

This week, we’ve looked at multiple ways of writing equations of lines – when given varied information: Slope and y-intercept, slope and a point, given 2 points, given a point and parallel to a given line. But its been very generic. Just the math. Some loved it. Some hated it. But none saw a purpose or reason for it.

Anyway, today, we collected data. Created scatter plots. We drew a trend lines. Chose a couple of points…to write the equation for our line of best fit. Why did I choose to do “just the math” prior to using the lesson hook? Not sure. I’m still battling which should come first. But today, I wish I had used the task first. Provided a need for the math.

It was in a class that we used Cool Shoes from Chris Shore’s big blue book Math Projects Journal (one of my favorites for years!)…that my day was made. The task uses height to predict shoe size. In our discussion, I mentioned how online shopping sometimes allows you to click a sizing chart. A student all of a sudden exclaims – “Thank you!”

Me, “Okay. for what?”

The student explains – “Finally, I see a purpose for all of this stuff! A real, purposeful use. Somewhere this can actually be used, be helpful. How real people can use these math skills to do something.” Smiling. Smiling. Smiling.

I went on to share – That’s what math really is…looking for patterns, modeling those patterns and using our models to predict, make connections, etc. Why do they weigh us when we go to the doctor? How do they know how much meds to prescribe when we are sick? What happens when someone has a cancerous tumor? How do they measure it? How does the oncologist decide how to treat it? How do insurance companies set rates? How do businesses make projections for upcoming projects?

One small glimpse. A student saw a purpose. The student smiled in math class (finally). I smiled. It was a good day.