Continuing our series on long-term success, we look at the art of wondering. Often our gifted kids wonder deeper and longer than others. They see things in new ways, or wonder why an obvious solution isn’t being taken.
Wondering gets short-changed as we age. To much wondering looks silly. It looks like daydreaming. We’re told “that’s just the way it is.”
But I think wondering is a key to long-term success. People who wonder will come up with interesting solutions, rather than plowing down the well-worn path. Wondering leads to new art, music, and writing. Wondering leads to scientific discoveries. And, by presenting students with tantalizing math data, you can encourage mathematical wondering in your classroom.
Here’s a screenshot of one of my favorite examples of curiosity-provoking math data:
This image, which I created from a Mother Jones article, shows the amount of sugar in healthy food expressed as Krispy Kreme donuts.
Show this to your class and ask: “What does this make you wonder?”
They might wonder:
- what information is missing
- what nutrients OJ has that those donuts don’t
- about other foods’ sugar content
- what makes donuts unhealthy
- what makes sugar unhealthy
And so on. Many of these questions could turn into mini-math investigations, research projects, or something to do after kids have finished their work.
Or here’s a fascinating image from a Washington Post article:
It’s harder to get into Walmart than an Ivy League school! Again, ask your students what they wonder about based on this image. Some of their questions may be easily answered with a quick Google search. Others might require further research, calculations, or phone calls.
Caffeine & The ER
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This is probably my favorite source of curiosity-provoking math data: an article from The Atlantic about the increase in caffeine-related emergency room visits. I recreated one of their graphs:
From 2005 to 2011, ER visits involving caffeine went from 2,000 to 20,000! This graph shows the breakdown in ages. What might students wonder? I know I want to know about energy drinks, caffeine limits, and what’s up with the 40 and over crowd!
Math Answers Questions
As students ask questions about data, they may come to see math not as an annoying source of worksheets, but as a set of tools useful for answering interesting questions.
- Which age group’s ER visits really increased the most from 2005 to 2011? You’ll need ratios or percents to answer that.
- How can we calculate the acceptance rate for the school academic pentathlon team? You’ll need to set up the fraction correctly and divide.
- To recreate the donut image, but based on calories or fat, students will have to create proportions.
Encourage your students to wonder wildly about math data, and give them the opportunities to try to answer some of their more interesting questions. For more interesting sources of math data, check out my growing collection of bookmarks.
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