Welcome to the September Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival.
The Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival hosted by Science@home is for anyone, because we are all teachers and learners all the time. This month our theme is “Maths”, which isn’t just about counting! Our bloggers have written about games, materials, memory, shapes, graphs and more. Check out the links at the bottom to find some other great posts on Maths.
Here is my (perhaps not so) secret. I have a Bachelor of Science degree that required two advanced calculus classes. I wrote a thesis called “Carbon Isotope Fractionation in Deciduous Angiosperm and Evergreen Conifer Plants” that required the use of statistical analysis. I worked for over a year in an astrobiology laboratory setting up experiments to help learn about Earth’s origins. But. The last time I remember being “good” at math was 4th grade. We did long division that year and a boy named John and I used to race to see who could finish first.
After 4th grade, though, math becomes a black hole of confusion and despair. Nights agonizing at the dinner table over heavy text books, learning the same concepts again and again, only to forget how to apply them in the next question. When I worked in the laboratory I dreaded the moments when my boss would ask me to make the most basic chemical conversions. My Sisyphean hell would be to have to do these basic problems over and over–to constantly have that feeling of falling, frantically scrabbling at my brain for anything that seems like it might be related to the answer, and worst of all, the feeling of letting someone down.
As far as I can tell, everything began to fall apart around the time that Proofs came in to my life. The proofs we did in school always had 5 lines, and you HAD to fill a certain step into each line in order to get credit. I can’t tell you how many times I got the right answer and ended up with a zero because I only had 3 or 4 steps, or couldn’t explain exactly what my steps were at all. In my opinion, this type of scoring is a death knell for anyone who struggles with thinking in a certain prescribed way. Every year teachers thought the same thing–getting the right answer was luck, and that was no way to do math. What does it mean, though, when this “luck” carries throughout your life, from basic geometry, to trigonometry, to calculus. My calculus teacher in college was as incredulous as my 5th and 6th grade teachers had been when once, overwhelmed and hoping for something positive after struggling in class I had him grade a long one problem quiz while I waited behind. After scanning through an entire page of work he told me that my answer was correct but I wouldn’t get any credit because he had NO idea how I had gotten it. While I understand the need to work in a linear, repeatable fashion, I wish that more effort had been made anywhere along the line from 4th grade to college graduation to try to make the method I was already good at work better for me.
There is a downfall to this way of thinking, of course. On a multiple choice test when I feel overwhelmed my brain automatically starts scanning the answers for something that looks “familiar.” It could be as complicated as strategically eliminating answers based on what I think the teacher is aiming for (you would be surprised how much this works!) to as simple (and illogical) as picking an answer because it has a 2 in it and so did the original question. After a life time of relying on these methods–as unhelpful as they often were!–I have to really try now not to do it. I finally started covering up the answers of tests until the end, because otherwise it’s like kicking a ball down a hill–once I get going it is hard to stop!
So where does science come in? Well, my friends, wherever there is a difficult subject there must be a reason and a reward, and in many cases science can be the motivation! One of the most consistent things I have found working with kids for the past 8 years is that almost ALL kids LOVE nature. They love it almost unconditionally, as long as they are exposed to it. They want to look at dinosaurs, they want to look under logs, they want to look at the stars.
Math is hiding in each of these things, and whether we like it or not, we need it in order to learn more about the world around us. Did you know that we can tell how big a dinosaur was based on the size of its leg bone? Or how much it rained in an ancient ecosystem by the size of the leaf fossils? Or that you can tell how fast an animal is moving by measuring its footprints? Did you know you can tell how tall a tree is by measuring its shadow? Did you know that shells, sunflowers, and pineapples all use the golden ratio in their formation?
Even though I am older now and well beyond taking math classes (I hope!), I am finally seeing math in a new light. A lot of this is due to my husband, who helped me struggle through my last college calculus class. My husband is one of the first people I have ever met who has a Passion for math. To him, math is Beautiful and Pure–the original language, the secret to everything.
Basically, he feels about math the way that I feel about nature! Through his patience and his joy I have been able to see math as a gift and a key that unlocks many mysteries.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from this is that a Love for a subject means you have almost endless patience for it, and that this energy and power can be harnessed and put to work in other areas. By looking at math through the rose-colored glasses of nature, it not only becomes more easy to manage, but turns into something that can actually help me understand the ecosystems, environments, and evolutions going on all around me. Through math I become a better naturalist and educator. Of course, it isn’t all perfect. My stomach still drops when I am asked to solve problems in front of people, and I am glad no one is grading my thought processes, but ever so slowly math is losing its hold on me. Imagine what I could have done if I had felt this way in 5th grade!
Visit Science@home to find out more about the Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival.
Please take the time to visit the other participants and check out their posts on “Maths.”
- Marita at Stuff With Thing writes about meal time maths with the help of our dinner table centrepiece and other food related maths fun 🙂
- AmandaB at HomeAge talks about numbers, shapes and sizes, who knew that nested building blocks could be so much more fun than just building them up and knocking them down!
- For Cass at Schooling Choices the car is one of her favorite learning tools. She thinks you could teach a child almost everything they needed to know about Math without ever leaving the car.
- Deb at Science@home let her kids raid the chocolate to measure and compare with scales and graphs.
- Backyard Safari is a right-brained person who spent a lifetime struggling with math, but comes to see the light through the wonder of nature.
- SMMART Ideas is another food learner, estimating with beans, noodles and cereal…and getting a little number writing practice in there too!
- For Monique at Your Cheeky Monkey, learning to tell the time is an important part of learning for a child, and it incorporates areas of Maths such as number recognition, counting, sequences and general numeracy.
- Narelle at A Bunch of Keys has a simple sorting activity that can be done with young children using things found around the home.
- Colin at Super Parents is writing about the discipline of maths, memory, and recall at 7 years old.
- Deb Chitwood from Living Montessori Now loves all the Montessori math materials. But there’s one material she says is absolutely brilliant.
- Miss Carly from Early Childhood Resources has a range of different mathematics activities that you can play with your children of all age groups!
- Ash from Mm is for Me has been having some number fun for little learners!
- The Planning Queen at Planning With Kids has games to teach number recognition to preschoolers – so they don’t know you’re doing it!
- Julie at Works For Me Homemaking says it might surprise you to know that maths is heavily reliant on language. Here is a brief discussion of some of the “language” of maths and why children struggling with language development may find maths difficult.
Thanks for visiting our carnival, we hope you find some interesting new blogs.