Story Time... in Math Class?

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Every day in my class, students have about 10 minutes of story time. What grade level do I teach?

At the mention of story time, many of you may picture a classroom full of individual carpet spaces with twenty small chairs and desks and even smaller students. But I'm not an elementary school teacher; I am a high school mathematics teacher. And the stories my students read differ from elementary school assignments. My students "read" data. 

At the beginning of each class, I have students select a single data set from Data Depot. I give them a few minutes to look at the data and create any displays that give them a new perspective. After a few minutes, I ask the students to tell me the story they read from this Daily Data. Each student has a unique perspective on the story that the data is telling, which fosters great conversation and debate during the discussion.

What stories could students find in this data set of baby births?

Math teachers often describe their subject as a foreign language, one that students must practice often in order to become fluent. As students become more proficient in mathematics, they become better at reading the stories the numbers are telling.

In some of my previous classes, I've encountered the question, “How will I use math in real life?” Taking a few minutes in each class to have students look at real data and discuss it gives them real-life experience using their critical thinking skills and applying what they've learned in the classroom. Students become more engaged and eager to learn. Moreover, jobs in the 21st century are relying more heavily on data analysis, so globally competitive students must be well-versed in reading the language of numbers.

If you want to apply this practice, choose a data set from the Data Depot and let students explore it for a few minutes. Then have them share the story they saw within the numbers. Prepare a few questions to prompt discussion in case the students have little to say. However, one thing I've learned is that students will hear a very different story from the one you heard.

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About Author

Garrett Pedersen

Garrett Pedersen is a mathematics teacher at Research Triangle High School in Durham, NC. He teaches Precalculus, AP Statistics, and an introductory level course in statistics and calculus at RTHS. He is currently working with the Curriculum Pathways Teacher Institute program creating new lessons in statistics and writing questions for data sets from the Data Depot. Garrett earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is passionate about creating data literate students that are eager to solve problems. In addition to teaching, Garrett spends his fall and spring afternoons coaching cross country and track at RTHS. He also enjoys running, gallivanting throughout the mountains, and spending time with his dog.

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