Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Math: In, Out, Through, Between and All Around...Everything

I really do think that the way to make math more enjoyable for everyone is to find a million tiny examples of how math plays into our interests and daily lives.  Because then?  Then it's OURS.  And, as any math teacher will tell you, math isn't really that hard, but you do have to be motivated to take it on.

I get re-motivated every time my daughter and I enter a new cycle of discovery and exploration.  I've determined that even though I can't always predict when it will happen I do know for sure that it'll come around again...

The latest cycle started Saturday with a trip to the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation's annual spring outreach program, the Lotus Blossoms Family Day Bazaar.

Cultural traditions from all over the world were represented there and my seven-year-old jumped for joy when she discovered a table with Native American activities, specifically Navaho.  She got to make a beaded cord by twisting fiber in a specific way and then finished it with her own beads at home.  Her final product is below:

The other part of the booth was learning a basic traditional string figure of a Navaho rug design, which I did while my kid was working on her cord.  On Sunday she found the string I had brought home and played around with it.  "Hey look!  A triangle!"

Lucky for me I had been sitting on a Cat's Cradle book, ready to pull out at just the right moment, and now she knows three basic figures.  It reminded me of James Murphy's work; he used Native American string figures (all of which he learned as a child) to teach reluctant high school math students a few decades ago in New York City.  His book is on my wish list now and I can't wait to read more about his work, but I did notice that, among other things, string figures require the ability to follow an algorithm/sequence/recipe which was the perfect challenge for my second grader. 

More than anything the Native American booth reminded my daughter that she knows a lot about that subject and she decided to create her own Native American museum.  She wanted to start right in on a mural but I encouraged her to do a draft first.  On Monday she got started on the real thing:

While she was drawing she pointed out the color patterns she was using in the bead and quill work detail on the person's clothing.  The ability to create pattern units and be conscious of the patterns she designs as specific entities is something that popped into view just about the time her reading really took off this past December.  Based on my work last summer I'm convinced that the development of this kind of "chunking" skill in both math and reading is completely related. I'm even more sure about this after her facility with multiplication and division concepts (understanding units and groups) really zoomed ahead this January and February. 

Also on Monday I chose a book to read at lunch which I had found at the local library's book sale for a quarter: Fun With Numbers by Massin.  The girl often rolls her eyes when I bring out a book like this outside our normal math time, but the first page had some fun stories about the Mayans and base 20 and she was way more open when I pointed out that the Mayans are native peoples.  Then came the Sumerians and base 60 which, as the book says, is how we tell time today.

"Go get me the clock!" the girl commanded, "so I can count like a Sumerian!"  She was eager to show, yet again, that waiting until the learner is ready makes learning easy -- last week she learned how to tell analog time in one day.

Culture, math, art, math, stories about math history, culture, math.  And that is our story of how math is in and out and all around us for the moment.  I'm excited to see how it all connects when it comes around again!


  1. Hi Fawn, thanks for visiting! I'm a big fan of yours. :-)

  2. Malke, you write: "waiting until the learner is ready makes learning easy". Yes! And I have to remind myself this almost every day. Oh, and now that James Murphy's book is on my ever-growing wish list as well :)


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


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