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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Math

Field Trips Motivate Mathematicians
Sarah Picard

Sometimes students and teachers can get stuck in the cycle of starting and finishing units of study in their math curriculum without stopping to think about how mathematical thinking is used in the world. Field trips to businesses where math is used nearly every moment can motivate students to learn important math skills and then use them in the real world. The following is a list of possibilities for field trips that can improve mathematical thinking. Many of the places could also be important for your social studies curriculum, as they are places in the community that teachers often study if their state mandates a study of community in first and second grade.

The Local Bank will give students exposure to money management as they learn about the importance of savings and checking accounts. Students can practice writing out their numbers as they write checks and fill out deposit slips.

The Grocery Store will help students understand concepts such as estimation, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Students can use a given amount of money to purchase items on a list that will be used to make a class snack. You can ask each of them to shop for the best buy, estimate, and use coupons.

A Restaurant will help students understand concepts of liquid and solid measurement as they explore the kitchen. They might also use the menus to practice estimation, addition, and subtraction. You can set up tables of students to order within a budget and calculate a tip for the server.

A Dairy will allow students to explore the concepts of liquid and solid measure.

A Quilt Shop or fabric store will help students use what they know about 2D geometry to cut out pieces for a class quilt. They can measure and cut squares and triangles, arrange them into patterns, and even manipulate the pieces so they can see how many triangles will cover the same area as a square. The students can also estimate the cost of fabric for the amount they will need for the class quilt.

A Train Station will help students understand the passage of time, estimating time, calculating the difference between arriving and departing trains, and managing time to arrive on time for a departing train. Train time tables may be available to help children read, along with maps of the routes, and ticket price pamphlets.

After some of these field trips, you might consider setting up a dramatic play center in your classroom so the students get practice acting out the worker and customer roles they observed at each business. Have fun on the trips and remember to keep your eyes open for mathematical thinking on all your field trips this year!

Have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Sarah.


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