Written by Werner Garciano
Every year, I present at Career Day at the elementary school that my kids attend. I have been doing it for seven years now, and it is always well received. I don’t know why teachers and students like my sessions since I talk more about the importance of math than I do my own career. Let’s face it, the career of a mathematics curriculum specialist (that’s the title on my business card) is not too glamorous. If I talked about what I do on a day to day basis, I am sure that kids will walk out saying, “No way am I going to do that job for the rest of my life!”
In order to show the importance of math in their future career, there are certain mantras that I follow when I design my presentations. It is much the same as the mantras that I used when lesson planning.
- Engage the participant. What could be more boring than a set of powerpoint slides about the life of a mathematics curriculum specialist? The slides just make it more bearable than a straight lecture since there is something to see other than the speaker and how he talks with his hands as he waves them about wildly.
- Be like Mr. Miyagi. In the Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi had Daniel San do various tasks that did not seem related to learning karate but they actually did. Remember how “paint the fence” was actually the best way to defend against a kick?
- Recognize your star participants. Recognition can range from pats on the back, making a great example of the work done by a participant or giving them a small prize.
So now you want an example of what I did at Career Day?
I posed a set of questions that seem like off the wall questions that are used by various companies when they interview candidates. These questions ranged from “How many cows are in Canada?” to “How many quarters will it take to reach the top of the Empire State Building?” The kids were in amazement that such “preposterous” questions were asked and they wanted to know what those questions had to do with getting a job at Google. I told them it was more of a test of their problem thinking skills and they had to solve non-routine problems in order to hone their critical thinking skills.
The kids went to various stations with different puzzles and games. One game they had to play was the game of Nimm. This is a game with fifteen coins and each player removes one or two coins at each turn. The player who removes the last coin is the loser. I challenged the kids to come up with a strategy on how to play the game of Nimm and also how to tell when they were going to lose way before the last coin is taken. We also played Coin Swap and Lunar Lockout, which are found in Discovering Geometry.
After all the playing was done, I asked who was successful in the short amount of time they had to play the games or with the puzzles. The star students got a little prize and a lot of praise from me, their teacher, and most important of all, their peers.
When I left after doing all of my sessions, I got a stack of thank you notes from the kids. The all said thank you and that they loved my session. Most of all, they said that they like math now. I made it fun.
How can you make every day in your classroom a Career Day, where students leave with excitement about math?