An Open Letter to My 2nd Grade Mathematician Buddies

Joe Harvey, Head of School

Last week, five students in second grade brought me "nutrition number stories." Their classmates delivered similar stories to teachers around the school, asking us to solve the nutrition-related mathematics problems they had created and to write back.

You may know that I love math. Actually, I am embracing a new way of saying that: "I love maths!" It picks up on Stanford professor Jo Boaler's preferred British usage of "maths" for mathematics, instead of just "math." That notion informs all we do in mathematics at Mark Day School. As a former high school math teacher and life-long student of mathematics, I love the way that our teachers help students explore and internalize the concept of many different maths--that mathematics is part of art, of design, of sound and pattern, of literature, of science and engineering, and more. Further, there are many ways to see and understand a problem, and many ways to move toward solving it. Next, everyone can be a mathematician, and it is unrelated to how fast we are with math. Some of the best, most renowned mathematicians in the world are not fast at all--and never were, even as children. Finally, I love how algebra is not limited to 7th and 8th grades, but instead is spread throughout our program--beginning in 1st grade. The research is clear: a deep, conceptual understanding of algebra is key to success in calculus and beyond.

And now, to the questions delivered last week:

  1. "Mr. Harvey loves fruits. Because they make him healthy and have fiber. That makes him strong to lead the school. He got 10 mangoes and 80 cherries. How many pieces of fruit did he have in all?" I do love mangoes and cherries--two of my favorites. I like the connection between fruits and health, and also the reasonable numbers of each kind of fruit according to their size.
  2. "Mr. Harvey wanted carbohydrates and purple fruits so that he could shake hands and remember names, so he ate 10 pieces of bread, 14 crackers, 24 grapes, and 8 plums. If he cut everything in half, how many pieces would he have in all?" This was another good one--I like the mix of different kinds of food (though that would be a BIG meal!) and the twist at the end of cutting everything in half and its impact on the total.
  3. "Mr. Harvey wanted to eat apples which have vitamins that can help him remember names for the Fun Run. So he bought 20 apples at the store. Then when he got home he ate 15 apples. How many did he have left?" Apples are another favorite...especially Honey Crisps, which are in season right now. Even for me, eating 15 apples would be a challenge (maybe even dangerous?). I really like having subtraction as part of the problem and the way it asked me to pay close attention to the question being asked.
  4. "Mr. Harvey wanted to have strong memory function so he can remember all the kids' names. So he bought 2 packs of purple grapes, 10 packs of raisins, 14 plums, and 18 eggplant. How many blue/purple fruits and vegetables did he buy?" I like the addition of color to the mix here, and had to think about whether raisins should be included in my total, and how to count a pack of grapes or raisins. Another good question.
  5. Finally, "Mr. Harvey needs to eat fruit to get a strong immune system to fight diseases. He has to eat 3 oranges, 8 strawberries, and 2 pears. How many pieces of fruit did he eat in all?" Good variety of fruit, and good art along with the question.
I have written each of my maths buddies back, answering their questions and posing a unique question of my own for each of them. I am looking forward to hearing back!