When we started learning algebra, I had to teach my sixth graders that we put two numbers next to each other, as in 2x or 3(4) to mean multiply, and use the fraction bar to mean divide. The multiplication and division signs they’d been using up to that point are suddenly almost useless.
I introduced the switch by talking about how most cultures have some sort of coming-of-age ceremony, like quinceañeras, bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, etc., and in math class, that day was our version of a coming of age ceremony. Soon, I switched tacks and started talking about the multiplication and division symbols as though they had died. We even had a moment of silence in each class. Since then, every time a kid uses one of the “old” symbols, I make a huge deal about how they aren’t supposed to be bringing things back from the dead. I make jokes about zombies and tell them it isn’t Halloween yet.
So of course, Halloween itself was a perfect opportunity to drive this message home. I wore all black (with bright orange Halloween socks, as you should have expected) and attached a cardboard multiplication sign to my front and a division sign to my back. Then I added a cape and skeleton mask… for good measure. (As I’ve said before, I lost all sense of shame when I started teaching middle school.)
I began each class by showing my costume and asking for volunteers to describe why it was the Scariest Costume Ever. The kids barely missed a beat – they got my joke and were nearly falling out of their chairs to explain it to everyone else. They LOVED it. Pure delight and grins all around in my class, all day. I’m raising these kids to be a big bunch of math nerds.
On a side note, there was a rule against costumes at my school, but I figured if I waited to put it on until I was inside my classroom, no one would notice or care. Of course, that meant my principal, assistant principal, and a team of charter school visitors ALL walked into my first period class and saw me dressed like that. Good thing you can’t yell at the math teacher for being the dorkiest human alive.