Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Shift in the Universe

Something shifted in my newly eight-year-old in the last week. It shifted in terms of how she understands math and science and in how she sees herself.

It started with a morning thought she had about the universe. It was such a big idea I knew I needed my smart friends on Facebook to help us out.  At first, she was not interested.  "No one cares what kids think," she said.  My reply? "No way! That is not true. I have tons of friends who really value what kids have to say and who are interested in what kids think.  Why don't you tell me your idea again and we'll see what they have to say?"  She finally agreed.  This is what she dictated and what I posted on my personal Facebook page:
Here’s how I came up with this theory. I saw the globe and was wanting to go on vacation and then I thought they should have a map of the universe but then I thought it would be impossible. But then this theory came to me. Since the universe doesn't have an end it must be a sphere and that is why no one has ever reached the end of it.
You know a tube of toothpaste with toothpaste in it? Well, it might be like the universe with all the planets in it and the universe might be shaped like a sphere and part of something bigger. Just like the tube of toothpaste is part of our bathroom which is part of our house which is part of our town which is part of our city which is part of our country which is part of our world which is part of outer space. So, those images get bigger and bigger just like the universe is in something bigger.
Seventy (70!) comments and twelve hours later, many of my wonderful math, science and artist friends had shared their thoughts, conceptualizations, and experience with us.  Frankly, it was mostly over my head, but I did start to understand 4D geometry a little better.  As for my daughter, she noticed that there can be different well-conceived theories out there that do not necessarily agree with one another.  Also, that adults don't always know everything, but if you want to know more about something you keep asking questions.  And that some of the reputable theories out there on the universe match her own thinking and visualizing.  The fact she accepted the uncertainty of it all was a HUGE leap forward.  But that's not all...

She had been working on and off for a few days to fully understand her own ideas about the shape and boundaries of our universe.  Unfortunately, a lot of the physics concepts offered in the FB comments were hard to conceptualize at the elementary level.  We were at the library a day or two later and she wanted to do some research - she found a book about the universe we hadn't read before and we started to read it.  It was at that point I had a thought: thinking about the structure of the universe is also thinking about infinity.

We've done some reading and thinking about infinity in the past few years, on and off but, until now it's been sort of a fuzzy concept. Here is one of her musings from this winter titled "What infinity means to me" written by her little dolly. "It is sewing that has never been done. It is also cloth that can never be done. And a mountain that reaches on forever."

At that moment in the library I remembered the TED-Ed video called "How Big is Infinity?" and thought it might help her in her quest to clarify her questions and theories.  The video utilizes set theory to help visualize the idea that "there are an infinite number of infinities of different sizes."  In the end, I think that being able to visualize infinity via numbers set in a really fabulous animation helped her settle into her own thinking about infinite universes (the core of her personal theory).  See what you think:

After she watched it she said, "I want to solve one of those unsolved math problems!  But I'll work on my theories [about the universe(s)] first."

During all this Maria from Moebius Noodles asked Isobel if she would allow her thoughts to be published on the Moebius Noodles blog.  My kid had to think about that for a little while.  After all, these were her ideas in question. But, I reminded her about our conversations over the preceding few days that many good ideas stand on the shoulders of the work someone else has done.  That's how good ideas are born -- from the seeds of past ideas and discoveries. "Not only that," I said, "but Maria is really interested in what kids think especially about math and science. She wants more kids to be able to share their interesting ideas."  So, my kid consented, and even drew a picture of her idea.  Her post is up now over at Moebius Noodles.

And, today, I noticed the shift.  Subtle, but in a 'who is this child?' kind of way. All of a sudden, out of the blue, my daughter, the one who coined the term "math mommy" spoken in a derisive tone, says: "You know, I think math is actually pretty interesting."  Not only that, today the math conversations seemed to flow much more freely:

Me: "Oh look, the Venus fly trap has caught some bugs!"
Her: "I know.  I've seen it multiple times."

Her, looking at the pile of library books I brought home: "At dinner will you read me The Cat in Numberland?  It's such a puzzling book." (And we read it all the way through together tonight.  We've read it a couple times before -- it's amazing how much more we both understood now, after going through first and second grade math together.)

Her: "The picture of the [hexagonal] chip on the package is bigger than the chip in the bag."
Me: "How much bigger?"
Her: "Oh, about two times bigger."
(She even helped me as I worked to figure it out for myself on graph paper. More on this in a future post.)

I know this is a long post, but it's been a pretty remarkable week where my kid had an idea and the adults took it and ran with it.  That's got to be super empowering if you're newly eight and realize your thoughts and ideas have weight within the larger world. I thank all those who participated in this pretty astounding adventure with us.

She's not the only kid to have had these kinds of thoughts and ideas, but right now what I'm celebrating is just how great my friends were to have taken her ideas seriously which, in turn, showed her just how relevant she is to the larger picture of life.  If you're a parent I think you'll understand just how grateful I am.

p.s. If you want to comment just be aware they don't seem to always show up in this template, so try either a) adding a '?' at the end of the address and hitting return to reload, or b) just clicking out and trying again.  Sorry for the hassle -- some weird Blogger bug I think.  

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful to be able to contemplate these big ideas about big things, and to have company doing it!


Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...