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Fun and Learning are NOT Synonyms

Updated: Feb 29

Y’all!!! If you want to make people really hate you…I mean really really get super mad…talk about how songs are not a great idea to teach multiplication facts!

I was on a Facebook thread this morning sharing some helpful advice…the stuff I wish people told me when I used to mess this stuff up all the time…and the same thing that always happens happened again. People came for me! They come for me HARD every time!

But I’ll say it, and say it, and say it again! You teach math through teaching math, not by singing songs! You learn math by DOING math! But maybe I should write my own song about teaching real math through problem solving and powerful strategies just because of how obsessed people are with songs in math class!

Music is amazing. It is. And I will not say I have never used music in my classroom. I do! But songs and math teaching have a long dark history and they need to break up. “Let the kids have fun!” they say. What’s wrong with kids having fun? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. Just because something is fun, doesn’t mean it’s effective…or good for you!

I had a few boyfriends that were fun…but they were not good for me. I have friends who are recovering addicts who starting using because drugs were fun…doesn’t mean they are good for you. I don’t understand why comprehension is considered important in reading, but not in math!

I know this seems a bit overdramatic, but when you deny students access to understandings they need to be successful mathematicians…I’m sorry…NOTHING IS FUN ABOUT THAT.

Nothing is fun about feeling like a failure. Nothing is fun about being the kid in middle school who has to hide their fingers under the table because they are so embarrassed they still have to count on or skip count because they don’t know their facts yet. Nothing is fun about feeling like your class moves too quickly for you, and you feel constantly behind. Like a failure. That is not fun.

Yes of course we want students to have fun learning!!! But they must actually be learning. Learning a skip counting song is not the same as understanding skip counting and patterns within our number system. Making a base ten model with graham crackers, pretzel sticks, and marshmallows is fun, but it does not teach place value. Using a mnemonic like “Dirty Monkeys Smell Bad or Does McDonalds Sell Cheeseburgers to remember steps to long division may seem silly and fun and appear to work for the day…but it sure doesn’t teach kids division.

Want to know how kids have fun? When they learn real math! Kids LOVE puzzles! They LOVE using their brains! They LOVE figuring things out. We can’t steal this opportunity for joyful learning from kids just because it may be EASIER FOR US to sing a song than actually teach math.

Teaching fake math has real repercussions for students. By choosing to take short cuts that deny students the opportunity to build essential mathematical understandings, you are limiting a student’s future. It doesn’t matter if that wasn’t your intent. None of us in a classroom have bad intentions. But that is the impact.

How do I know? Because I did fake math with all these “fun ways” for my entire schooling. And I hated math. And I felt dumb. And I gave up my dream careers because I had severe math anxiety because my teachers couldn’t answer my “why” questions and just wanted me to have fun singing songs and remember silly tricks. In fact my entire math miseducation can be summed up by reading the table of contents in this amazing free resource!

It wasn’t fun to not understand. Especially as a kid with undiagnosed ADHD and working memory issues. It wasn’t fun to be strong in all other academic areas…except for math. It wasn’t fun to feel like something was wrong with me.

Our kids deserve better. Do I think my teachers were horrible and purposefully tried to ruin my future? No. I think they were doing the best they can, like we all do. We do the best we can until we know better. Then when we know better, we do better. If you want to know better, check out this free course! Math That Matters: Essential Understandings For Developing Numerical Fluency In Elementary School! You won’t regret it!

And then after you know better, don’t beat yourself up for ways you have taught in the past. We have all messed up. Doesn’t mean you are a bad teacher. Not by a long shot. In fact, since you are reading this, chances are you are an amazing teacher! KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING AND BEING AWESOME!

And let us know if you could use more support transitioning from a fun teacher to a fun MATH teacher! At SumOneCares, we are here to serve!

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