Authentic Teaching – Turning a Wait into a Math Lesson


I was waiting for Metro on a summer day, in a Washington, D.C. station.  The station was hot, crowded, and the trains were running late.  As I stood waiting, I noticed two mothers nearby, both with young sons.  Both children were whining, and my initial reaction was relief that I was not also dealing with a young child in this heat, bad enough I had to stand here and wait myself.  But as I stood watching, I was struck by the different way in which the two mothers were dealing with the wait.

One mother was explaining that the trains were running slow because they were so crowded.  She pointed up at the display that showed the wait for the next train, and started counting down with the numbers on the display.  Her child stopped whining, and became engaged with watching the seconds and minutes count down.  Not only was she teaching her child patience with patience, but she was also developing math skills.

The second mother reacted to her whining child with a swat on the behind, and language that really surprised me. Language not appropriate for sailors in a bar (no offense intended to sailors in bars), and certainly no way to model behavior for a child.  She also threatened to not get him a promised treat later.  His behavior escalated, hers escalated…and I am sure I don’t need to explain the moral of this story.

Authentic Teaching – Restaurant Math


Here is another math idea for children while eating at restaurants.  My mom actually came up with this idea when I was a child and had discovered shrimp cocktails.  To make us aware of how much we were spending at restaurants, she played a game called “Guess the Check.”  After the first time, we would expect this, and my brothers and I would listen to everyone order, check the prices on the menu, and add up the cost in our heads.  Not only was this a great way to develop authentic math skills, but it also made us aware of what we were ordering/spending at a restaurant.  After a conversation about family budgets and eating out, my order of the expensive shrimp cocktail ceased (except when my grandparents came to town and were treating – that is what grandparents are for!)


Authentic Teaching – Vacation Math


This is the time of year when families tend to travel with children.  It is also the time of year when parents are often faced with the fearsome gift shop.  (Full disclosure:  I love gift shops, but my husband is definitely afraid of them!)

Giving children a budget before a trip is not only a great way to teach math, but also a way to cut down on whining.  Win, Win!  With young children the number can be how many souvenirs they can buy (remember that young children don’t even understand that everything in a store is for sale, so you can pick a few things in your price range and let them pick one).  For older children, they can have an amount they can spend during the trip.  You can even include calculating tax (and finding out the tax rate where you are traveling) with teenagers.

And remember it is also OK to say no souvenirs.  If this is not in the budget, it’s not in the budget.