Teaching Math in a Disaster Area

A reader writes from Ascension Parish in Louisiana where 40,000 homes have been impacted by a catastrophic flood:

The Red Cross is asking for certified teachers to help out in the shelters. What would you do if you were asked to help? What kind of activities could be done in a shelter with children and a minimal amount of supplies?

What would you recommend?

Given those constraints, I’d probably use the print-based portions of Jo Boaler’s Week of Inspirational Math along with a bunch of the Tiny Math Games we collected several years ago.

I’d probably cry a bunch, too, I don’t know, Jesus man what a horrible situation.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I like the two resources you suggest. I’m assuming we are working on “what would you recommend in terms of teaching mathematics under these constraints”?

    I also think that Number Talks seem like they would be a helpful routine to use (although recording strategies kids come up with seems like it would be hard).

    Hopefully other people have suggestions as well.


  2. David Srebnick

    August 17, 2016 - 4:19 pm -

    I had some thoughts of individual activities that don’t require much in terms of supplies. Perhaps this list of possibilities will spark some other ideas.
    1) Practicing mental math, or teaching quick computation tricks
    2) Estimating: Every so often I give my eighth graders a picture of something and ask them to estimate some aspect of the picture: How many miles of pipes in the Empire State Building, how many rooms in the pictured hotel, how tall is a building (given a picture with people nearby as a reference), etc.
    3) There are a lot of 3-act problems that would be great.
    4) Origami – based math
    5) Interesting way of teaching about the Cartesian plane: human graphing. http://www.shastacoe.org/uploaded/SCMP2/Spring_Content_Day_2014/1_3-5_Human_Graphing_Activity_PDF.pdf
    6) STEM activity: each team gets 20 pieces of thick spaghetti, 3′ of thread, 3′ of tape, and a marshmallow. Build a free-standing structure that will support the marshmallow. Highest one wins.
    7) NCTM Illuminations has lots of possibilities. One activity that comes to mind is “capture/recapture.” https://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2528
    8) Math related to games, probability, dice, coin flips.

  3. Many of us did the same years back in the San Diego wildfires… They were looking for teacher volunteers at Qualcomm Stadium to offer “school” and learning activities. One of my top teaching experiences.

  4. How about CS Unplugged activities? These are intended to teach computational thinking without computers, which helps math and other subjects too.