Math Teachers Use Local Stories About Transportation in New K-5 Booklet


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Math often gets a bad rap in schools.

But what if students could count bikes and buses, and solve word problems about local bike lanes and bus routes?

That is what’s happening in Santa Monica, Calif. (18.1% Latino)—elementary students get “Math in My World” booklets with problems involving how people stay active and move around their community, like walking, biking, skating, scootering, and public transit.

Math in My World in Santa Monica, CalforniaThe booklets launched December 2017 by the city’s Safe Routes to School program.

“So instead of showing a six-year-old the somewhat-abstract idea that 2+1=3, they learn that Grace has 2 scooters and Sam has 1 scooter and together they have 3,” wrote Jack Moreau, a transit official for the City of Santa Monica.

All kids benefit of course, but this could help students beyond the healthy-and-wealthy beach community of Santa Monica.

Obesity and Low Math Proficiency in L.A. County

In California, the most public school students are Latino (54%). But Latino children lag behind white children in every county in California, according to Esmeralda Fabián Romero in the LA School Report.

That includes Los Angeles County, home to Santa Monica.

In L.A. County, far more Latino fifth-graders are obese (32%) than their white peers (15%). Part of the reason is that some areas lacks of safe places for physical activity, such as sidewalks, and time for activity, such as school P.E. and recess.

Also, Latino students are less proficient in math (27%) than their white peers (57%). Part of the reason for this is that local neighborhoods lack access to early childhood education centers, and schools are among the most segregated in the country.

Where these kids live matters to their future success, even more than their genes.

Health suffers when their neighborhoods lack quality education opportunities or safe places for families to walk, bike, and play, according to a Salud America! research review.

That’s why the new math booklets in Santa Monica are so critical.

Math in My World

Santa Monica city leaders believe healthy communities thrive on clean air and active lifestyles.

They’re working on improving transportation choices for all people to get to where they’re going and back, without needing to sit in traffic or produce greenhouse gas emissions.

They also wanted to engage kids and families in these opportunities.

So Santa Monica, in partnership with Metro, created the Math in My World booklets to teach to California Common Core standards while combining active living and math in an environment children can recognize.

Math problems were specially made for Santa Monica classrooms using local stories about transportation. Many students learn better through storytelling. Math instruction doesn’t always use that kind of approach.

Here are some sample math problems from kindergarten, second grade, and third grade, respectively:

  • Katie and Alejandra rode their bikes together 3 miles to the beach. Then they rode 2 miles to their school. How many miles did they ride in all?
  • Juan decided to use the Santa Monica Bike Share, Breeze, with his mother one Saturday afternoon.That day, the Breeze Bike cost Juan and his mother $10. They had so much fun though, that the next day (on Sunday), they took the bikes out again. They paid $14 total for the whole weekend. How much did they pay for their bikes on Sunday?
  • Rico picks up his little brother from Grant Elementary School every day. It takes him 36 minutes to walk from Santa Monica High School to Grant Elementary School. It takes half that amount of time to take the bus and walk. If he walks for 7 minutes when he takes the bus, how long is he on the bus for?

After just one week of availability, 16 classes with 434 students received Math in My World booklets to use throughout the year.

“By creating a learning environment for students to gain critical math skills while considering various means of moving around Santa Monica, kids are getting an early exposure to what it means to live in a healthy, active city where they can have fun on their bicycles and scooters, be kind to the environment, and excel in school,” wrote Moreau.

Do you know of anyone who could use the “Math in My World” approach in their city?

Share with them (and tag @SaMoPlanning @santamonicacity @SafeRoutesNow)!

By The Numbers By The Numbers



of Latino neighborhoods lack recreational facilities compared to 38% of white neighborhoods.

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