What’s your favorite holiday recipe? This year, try mixing in a new ingredient—math. Whether you’re home for the holidays, teaching winter camp, or leading daycare activities during winter break, you can sprinkle some math into cooking, says Marlene Kliman, Principal Investigator of TERC’s Mixing in Math program.
Measuring ingredients, for example, is a big part of cooking where kids can get a taste of math, but measuring can be a challenge for children. “Educators will often measure the ingredients themselves to avoid mistakes children might make. That means missing a critical learning opportunity for the kids,” Kliman says. Her advice is, “Go slowly and help children measure, or have children ‘practice’ measure a couple times with water, for example, before moving on to flour and sugar."
The secret ingredient is making math an authentic part of the task, Kliman explains. Instead of turning things that children love into word problems, focus on putting math into immediate, hands-on tasks such as increasing a recipe, as with the Double or More activity.
Mixing in math doesn’t mean you have to call the whole activity “math,” Kliman adds. “Bill it as cooking and let kids know math is involved. Then they can discover that math is useful and relevant to their lives.”
Whether you’re mixing math into cooking, crafts, games or other activities, capitalizing on kids’ interests, culture and strengths helps them gain a sense of accomplishment. “We want children to recognize that things they enjoy and can do well involve math. That way, they see themselves being able to handle the math they meet every day,” Kliman emphasizes.
An equally important goal of Mixing In Math, which was partly funded by the National Science Foundation, is increasing educators’ math comfort level. “We want educators to enjoy doing math to further their own goals such as helping kids get along together, getting kids excited about learning, helping them be socially and emotionally safe, and encouraging them to make friends,” Kliman says.
Educators who use Mixing in Math report that they didn’t realize how relevant math could be to their work with kids. “Their view of math changes completely,” Kliman observes, “and they discover that math can be part of the things they and the kids truly enjoy.”
Mixing in Math turns even boring times—like waiting in a group line to use the bathroom, or waiting in a store line to buy holiday presents—into teachable moments. Activities such as How Many in a Minute, Give Me a Minute, Filling the Time, and Mixing in Math Moments help learners understand and develop a sense of time, by turning an abstract concept like time into concrete data, like how many alphabet letters they can write or how many times they can jump in a minute.