But what does it look like in practice?
After I graduated college, I spent a month teaching in Arusha, Tanzania. The school I taught in had few resources and absolutely none of the modern day technologies we enjoy here at home - including calculators. I was teaching a unit on logarithms, and as we progressed through the book, we eventually got to problems with non-integer answers. Uhm, do we skip these? You can’t do logarithms without a calculator…
Oh yes you can, and my host teacher quickly introduced me to log tables. I took the log table home, hoping Dave could show me how to use it, but in true professor fashion, he offered his help but did not give me the answer.
Not sure where to start, I plugged a problem into my calculator, hoping to reverse engineer the answer using the table. In other words, if log25 = 1.3980, how can I get that answer from the table? As I worked through this process, I remember turning to Dave and saying, “This is kind of fun, like solving a puzzle, or cracking a mystery code.” And that was the moment we both thought, well wait a minute, what if the kids got to do this too? Aha! This is where we turn to MacGyver Math.
This teaching move embodies MacGyver Math for a few reasons:
Here's a look at the difference between my original plan and my MacGyver Math plan.
I am well aware that the table above is very idealistic and some of the conversations/outcomes could have happened in either scenario. However, what I hope the table illustrates is how much easier it is to achieve a deeper and more engaging level of learning by making just a small change in how a lesson is approached. I’d also like to point out that MacGyver addresses at least two of the Standards of Mathematical Practices (my main teaching obsession, right next to good writing utensils) and also allows the teacher to be a facilitator of learning instead of a lecturer.
The big take away here is that MacGyver Math is all about using stuff you already have and making a small, manageable shift in how you use that stuff to achieve better learning. It shouldn’t take a lot of extra planning time and it shouldn’t feel like you are totally changing how you teach. My goal is to share more ideas and resources throughout the year; I look forward to your input and suggestions as I work to improve my practice and hopefully provide some inspiration for yours.