Can you solve this problem?
If you looked at it and thought, “Well, sure, that is easy,” you might be feeling the way some students do when first introduced to emoji math. Emoji math is exactly what it sounds like—mathematical equations to be solved using the familiar icons in place of traditional variables. It’s algebra with faces, or pizzas, or unicorns. It allows students to look at math in a new way, the essence of creative mathematical thinking, all while solving problems using content that is more intuitive than the traditional variables x, y, and z. And who wouldn’t rather solve for pizza or burritos? Emoji math can be used to introduce young children to algebraic thinking or to help algebra students find meaning in problem solving. After all, as McCaffrey and Matthews* clarified:
Emoji math is not watered down algebra; it is a form of algebra using variables that students are more likely to encounter in life outside the classroom.
There are lots of websites offering examples of emoji math and teacher resource sites ready to sell ready-made emoji worksheets. Just warm up your trusty browser and search. But to me, the best part of emoji math is the chance for students to create their own equations. Instead of abstract (and potentially nonsensical) problems, emoji equations can be like a secret code to which only the author(s) has the key. While creating their own problems, students can examine how much information must be present to make it possible to solve a problem, and how to express mathematical relationships.
If you’d like to read more about the ideas behind emoji math—and other graphically-based problem solving options—see the article below. In the meantime, next time you want to plan a new math activity, you might want to take out your phone.
*McCaffrey, T. & Matthews, P.G. (2017). An emoji is worth a thousand variables. The Mathematics Teacher, 111(2), 96-102.