Tag Archives: calculus

Math in the Time of COVID-19

COVID-19 is a pandemic. Nations are on lockdown. In the US, cities are beginning to shutdown, impose curfews, or otherwise restrict gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of a virus that has shown exponential growth and for which no vaccine looks to be available in the near term. Stock markets around the world have crumbled. Companies are mandating that staff work from home. Prominent politicians have self-quarantined as soon as they found out they had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Universities have, in effect, refused students to return to their dorms, extended Spring Break, and moved to 100% distance learning models. Primary and secondary schools have announced multi-week closures and have sent study and work packets to students. Some schools have enough of a technological set up to facilitate some type of teacher-student interaction.

When we read about this in 20 years, it may sound like some type of apocalypse story. This is real.

The purpose of this article is to offer math help. Many of you who are parents may already begin to feel overwhelmed with working from home while your significant other does so as well, in addition to having one or more high energy children in the house. And to compound all of this, the math instruction that may have happened in school is now left to your child and you to figure out. As we know math sucks! Or if it hasn’t, it will.

What am I offering? Math help in various forms. I’m not charging anyone a tutoring fee or anything. First, here are links to a number of small, self-contained, no-login required web apps / programs that I’ve made in the past for teachers and students (some my own!) to help with math instruction or practice.

  • Infinite Fraction Practice — better than fixed flashcards and has three different sizes of numbers to simultaneously help with arithmetic practice. Used it for many of my Algebra students whose fraction work was weaker than acceptable.
  • A hodgepodge of basic arithmetic stuff for grades 4 through 8 — acts as enrichment for your advanced students but also as remediation and skill practice if you have already covered these topics
  • Spelling + Math — If an A is worth $0.01, a B is worth $0.02, …, a Z is worth $0.26, then how much is a spelling word worth? For example, CAT is worth \($0.03 + $0.01 + $0.20 = $0.26\) Can you find words that are worth $1.00? What’s the most expensive spelling word? This is cheap, simple, and fun.
  • Intermediate Algebra — I’ve used this with my classes and individual students. This is great not just for an intermediate algebra class, but even if you are teaching AP Calculus or College Calculus and want your students to have their Algebra work better reinforced. This also doubles for some standardized test prep.
  • Hit or Miss, Simulation — a nice introduction to probabilistic integration. Depending on how you deliver the content, this can work for 4th grade and up. Great sidebar conversations with your Calculus class when you start working on integration and discuss area under the curve. Deterministic integration doesn’t have to be the only way!!
  • Here’s a little counting activity for 100 days of school.

Of course, for those of you in advanced courses, definitely reach out. I’ll have to brush up on Measure Theory, but I can help there too.

Next, I will say this …

For Teachers

If you have questions about how to help your students, lesson plan or otherwise modify instruction, or manage your “classroom” in a now 100% distance learning environment, please reach out. Shoot me an email (gmail.com … mathmisery @), leave a comment, or send me a tweet.

A few immediate and perhaps obvious pieces of advice.

  • Now is NOT the time to discuss the mathematics of contagion. DO NOT USE COVID-19 as a “hook” for discussing exponential growth, graph theory, network analysis, etc. This is wildly inappropriate. Stick to the typical plan and talk about grains of rice on a chessboard. I know that a typical example is bacteria growth when discussing exponential growth, I would avoid this as well even though bacteria and viruses are not the same thing.
  • Be verbose. We know how difficult it is for a student to return to a classroom after even a day of absence since they have to play catch up with the material taught. Assume now that we are going to work in a multi-week absence period. Knowledge retention will be low. Confusion will be high. Rate of giving up will be drastically higher than normal. What can you do? Provide TONS of examples with fully worked out solutions. Not five or six or seven. But 50. Odds are your students will have to teach themselves.
  • Remember your students are at home, but their movement has been curtailed. If you have to provide math assignments, try to keep their home life in mind. Every district, every classroom, every student, has their nuances. I can’t spell out every situation here, but I’m happy to discuss if you are stuck.
  • Set expectations that reflect this reality. Busy work is not worth it [is it ever really worth it?]. What might work better than drill packets are “inverse” questions. Rather than 50 arithmetic questions, try something like “can you think of at least 5 different ways to add to 15?” and from here you can modify. Making small puzzles like these are good for self-serve engagement. Along with those puzzles, give a sense of their difficulty and the time involved; let the student know the expectation.
  • Be ok with things not being done “on time” or if at all.

For Parents and Students

Same blanket welcome as for teachers. Reach out if you are stuck. Shoot me an email (gmail.com … mathmisery @), leave a comment, or send me a tweet.

Specifically for parents: reassure your child about their math work. This is an unusual time. The web page links above are set up in a “self-serve” kind of way. I encourage you to check them out. There are other math sites that are set up for distance instruction with tons of math videos, lectures, and resources. Some basic google searches will lead the way. Don’t feel that the only instructional material is what the teacher has provided. The teacher doesn’t expect this either.

Specifically for students: When I was 17 I was afraid of failing my driver’s license test. I had to figure out how to calm myself down. I came to realize that millions of people pass their driver’s license test the first time they take it. If millions of people can do it, so can I. And you know what? I passed my test! Math is no different. Everyone says math is hard or that you have to be smart to be good at math. Math is not hard and you don’t have to be smart to be good at math. Math is like anything else. With time and focused practice you’ll be good at it too. Being smart doesn’t make you good at math. Being good at math makes you smart. How about that? 😉 If I got good at math, so can you. If you’re stuck? Just send a message! You know how!

I hope this helps us all.


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