Learning from life

Varun Gupta

In 2017, I started working in a government school with children of grades 4 and 5. This bunch of students was very warm and welcoming but I soon realized that their literacy and numeracy skills were not up to the mark; they could express themselves quite well verbally though and we developed a strong bond.

In math, I started with the basics – number sense. I began with what they already knew– their birthdays and money. But as we progressed to the big numbers and word problems, it was becoming difficult and we were getting nowhere. One day I saw them playing a game that looked like hopscotch. The children had drawn a big square on the floor with chalk and inside it were triangles with numbers like 50, 70, 90 and 200. They called their game ‘Samosa’. As I stood watching the children play, I observed that they were well versed with the multiples of 10.

I had also been noticing the children bringing 5 and 10 rupee packets of chips, juices and biscuits to school. Siblings would discuss what to buy and how many packets they would get with the amount of money their parents had given them. These two instances gave me an idea. Why not highlight the importance of math in their daily life to get them more involved in the class? I began looking for more real life examples to teach them mathematics.

We had recently started celebrating the birthdays of students at the end of every month. I would allow them to pick a snack of their choice to eat with the cake; it could be juice, namkeen, biscuit anything, a packet of snacks for everyone. This was a favourite activity with them and so I started giving them birthday party related word problems. How did they want to celebrate their birthday? How many friends did they want to invite? What would the menu be like? Will there be decorations? What about return gifts? The students were required to guess the approximate amount and then work out the details and exact cost. The children initially used the repetitive addition strategy and then multiplication. The cake context was also useful while learning fractions. Children are smarter than adults, especially when it comes to cake, they easily worked out that lesser the number of friends, the larger would be their share of cake. The success I saw with the birthday theme in the math class prompted me to use the topic in my language classes as well. The children were at their expressive best talking excitedly about the birthdays of their loved ones or friends whose birthdays we couldn’t celebrate in school. So along with estimation, addition and multiplication, my students were learning about planning an event and recognizing and being mindful of their emotions and the resources in hand.

Groceries at home was another topic that I found I could easily integrate in my classes. I asked my students to check with their parents the list of grocery items needed every month and how much each item cost. As we discussed the monthly groceries in the language class, my students became more aware of what it takes to sustain a family and how they could be more mindful about what they spent. In math, groceries helped us learn about money and the measurement of quantity– kilograms, grams, litre, milliliter.

I used the things in their home, school and immediate environment to teach them shapes, the material, classification and sorting and quantity measurement. We did activities like emptying out a bucket using a 1L bottle to determine the capacity of the bucket and how much water we use every day for bathing and washing hands. We put a 1 L bottle underneath a dripping tap to observe how much water got wasted in a minute. I used their samosa game as well for shapes and distance measurement. Some children’s parents were vegetable sellers and this gave me the opportunity to talk about approximation, estimation, weight measurement (2 Kg, 1 Kg, 500gm, 250gm, 100 grams), combination of weights and the balancing concept.

So, by weaving all these elements of their day-to-day life in mathematics I was able to facilitate their learning of different concepts of maths and further my own learning in the process. And with the integration of the same theme in the language classes, I could also do something about their emotional well-being and wholesome learning.

The author is an educator with four years of experience in a primary school till March 2021. He did his PGDLT (Post Graduate diploma in Learning and Teaching) with IAAT (I Am A Teacher, Gurgaon). He was mentored in reflective practices by Smriti Jain (Co-founder IAAT), in child psychology and assessment by Tapaswini Sahu (Academic Dir. IAAT) and in mathematics by Ek Shaji (Co-founder Jodo Gyan along with Usha Menon) in 2016-17. Currently, he is associated with a private school in Gurgaon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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