How to Teach Math Concepts at the Dinner Table

Would you like to teach math everywhere you go? Well, here’s one from the table!

Daughter enjoys playing with our salt-and-pepper shaker holder at dinner. She takes out the salt, then takes out the pepper, then replaces the salt, then replaces the pepper.

The order in which she does these four operations vary. Including switching the salt and pepper.

She’s slowly putting together the pieces that will one day become the commutative property.

She’s also practicing substitution…

She’s learning that the salt and pepper can be switched (commutative). And she’s learning that one can be interchanged for the other (substitution).

…and the associative property!

She attempted to put her small milk cup into the holder. It fit, but only with pushing. She then removed the milk cup and attempted to put it in the other side. (At her age the things grown-ups understand are not obvious to her.)

Although non-equality isn’t part of the associative property (which is if a=b, b=c then a=c), the comparison of three things is.

Here are the things she’s learning from this dinner session:

This fact she discovers from interchanging them in the holder.
By putting them in the holder in a different order, she learns that the equality is commutative.
Since the milk cup won’t fit into the spot the salt was just in, she learns this.
And trying to shove the milk cup in the other side yields this fact.

So pull out the stops – give the children everything. And let them explore. If they have the gift of language, you can hint at some of these properties, but be careful not to go into a full “lesson” at dinner. Teaching math at the dinner table should be fun.

Where have you seen math properties in your world? Share your stories in the comments – or link back to your story on your blog!

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4 Responses to How to Teach Math Concepts at the Dinner Table

  1. I try to tell my students that math is everywhere. It is great how you described how your daughter is learning math by experimenting with everyday objects and not being told anything yet about what she is teaching herself. I forget that the young children have not been exposed to a lot of things mathematically yet. They do have to start from somewhere.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jenny.

      I wonder how it would be to have a “You Can’t Find Math in That!” contest. Students would have to find something that totally looked like there was no math in it and then explain some math in it. Win points for being the most creative.

  2. Love is noncommutative and nontransitive. As an old joke goes: “Men love women. Women love children. Children love hamsters. But hamsters don’t love anyone!”

    Rock-paper-scissors is a nontransitive game.

    Lots of nonsymmetric relations can be amusingly roleplayed with kids: a book reading a person, a dog giving the owner a walk (mine frequently does), a chair sitting on you!

    Also, all those corny “Russian reversal” jokes

    In Soviet Russia, party throws you!

    • Reminds me of the “Have you ever seen a housefly?” jokes. In that one you see a house flying away.

      Or barn dance, fish fry, etc.

      It’s fun to play semantics with math as much as with language!

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