The Power of Reviewing Math Vocabulary Terms

While my love of math is a relatively new passion, I have finally come to see the vast power that math holds.  Without math, we cannot describe scientific happenings precisely.  Without math, an asteroid is just near, around, or close to Earth.  How do we know how close or far away it is?  Should we pack our things and board a space shuttle or keep on keepin’ on?  Math specifically and precisely describes our world and how it works.  Without math, we could not further investigate the mysteries of our world.  I wish I had discovered math’s amazing power when I was in school because maybe then I would have better understood chemistry concepts and physics.  I might have even been more interested in how the world works if I had learned to love math when I was in high school.  Perhaps, I would be a physicist right now had I understood math’s awesome power back when I was in school.  The what ifs are infinite, much like math’s power.

As a teacher, I have taken on the responsibility of helping my students learn to love math because of its awesome power.  I want my students to see that while math can be challenging, it can also be a lot of fun and help us to make sense of things that once seemed confusing.  Understanding math can make playing video games like Angry Birds a lot easier.  If you know how to calculate parabolas, then predicting the best trajectory from which to launch your bird to destroy the most pigs could be much easier.  In order to get students to this point, they need to not only understand formulas and numbers, they also need to know concepts and vocabulary terms.  If students don’t know what decrease means, then they will not be able to appropriately solve a word problem involving that term.  Having a strong number sense is futile if students don’t have an equally strong word sense.

Today in STEM class, the students participated in an activity that reviewed a bunch of basic computational vocabulary terms.  Each student, using a 100s chart, listened carefully to a series of oral computations with which I provided them.  They needed to determine the outcome for each series of steps.  Below is an example of one of the series of steps I had them work through.

  1. Begin at the number that represents how many sides are on a square
  2. Plus the value of a dime
  3. Take away 2
  4. Add 21
  5. Plus 11
  6. Combine with 12 more
  7. Decrease by 3
  8. Subtract a dozen
  9. Take away 20
  10. Plus 3
  11. Minus 10
  12. Increase by 2

The goal was for them to know the exact answer by following the steps I read aloud.  I was sure to provide them ample processing time in between each step.  While I wanted the students to practice their basic mental math facts, this activity also provided the students a chance to review pertinent vocabulary terms that they will see in word problems in their future math courses.  For our ESL students, this activity allowed me a chance to define unknown words for them.  Surprisingly, many of my ESL students did not know how much a dozen is or what the value of a dime is.  Quick activities like this allow for opportunities to support all of the learners in my classroom.  Knowing the vocabulary terms used in math classes and the math portion of our STEM class is vital to fully understanding the concepts and skills involved.  The students seemed to really enjoy this activity without realizing how much learning and reviewing was actually taking place.  I love when that happens.  The hidden curriculum used in the classroom so important in helping support and challenge the students.

My hope is to continue using activities like this throughout the remainder of the academic year so that the students are learning all aspects of the math concepts covered.  The power of math is great, but can only be harnessed by those who fully understand its power.  Understanding anything requires knowing almost everything about it.  Since the vocabulary of math is so integral to comprehending various skills, there is much power that comes with completing activities like the one I had my students participate in today.


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