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Education and Schooling

Children’s Day pre schoolers are measuring maniacs these days. I had my wingspan measured. It is 101 unifix cubes long. It is also 73 inches, 18 crayons and 13.5 hummingbird wingspans long—same as Malcolm, Annabel’s Dad. Anna Priya’s wingspan is half of Mr. Rick’s.

Experiencing that 101 unifix cubes, 18 crayons, 13.5 hummingbird wingspans and 73 inches are different ways of expressing the same thing is important even if it happens years before they can manipulate the numbers…even before they can associate symbols with quantities. Understanding that there are many ways to see the same thing is a critical educational objective.

Convert the fraction 3/8 to a percent. Turn 37.5% into a decimal. What is the fraction for .375? Students learn how to perform these calisthenics in 5th and 6th grade. However, this business must rest on a complex mental framework in order to be very valuable. Education is building that framework. Learning how to convert fractions to decimals and back again builds only a few tiny links in the fully developed, complex brain.

If brain development is what we are after (and it is), then understanding what 3/8 = 37.5% = .375 means is a better test of mastery than simply knowing how to do the conversions. When I taught algebra, I had high school students who didn’t know what this meant even though they could perform the operations. It’s an insight—a mental shift—to realize that 3/8, 37.5%, .375 are not different numbers but the same number in different forms for different purposes. 3/8 IS 37.5% IS .375. They are three different expressions of the same thing rather than three different things.

Moreover, this knowledge is an important cognitive underpinning for so much in life. The concept that different things (like waves and particles) can be the same things (quanta) is necessary for getting through physics. The three dimensional world we experience turns out to be a three dimensional representation of a multi-dimensional reality. Understanding how, with integrity, to believe in affirmative action and at the same time not to discriminate on the basis of race, creed and color is essential. Taking apparently different things and finding a way for them to be quite harmonious is a very important ability.

At CDS schooling is also an education, and a great deal of education happens before kindergarten. So, you GO, preschoolers. Measure, measure, measure.


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2 Responses to “Education and Schooling”

  1. Lizzie May 7, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    What about the California Condor? Did anyone’s wingspan come close? I love this project in spring, because it is Bird Season. I wonder if the class will put out seed and enjoy the different sizes of all the song birds and doves.

  2. Candy May 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

    Anabel’s dad Malcolm, just slightly broader-winged than Rick, was the closest to the condor, but not really all that close.

    The class goes out to formally bird-watch in the garden near the bird feeder once a week and they have access to their binoculars (brought from home) most any time they want to observe birds in the yard. The school has always had a rich array of birds, which is one of the reasons why I chose this topic for our project. Over my many years of working at the school I have become familiar with the birds and their nesting and migratory patterns, so I knew there would be ample opportunity to see night herons, red tail hawks, yellow chevroned parakeets, bushtits, starlings, mockingbirds, crows, rock doves, mourning doves, robins, house finches, house sparrows, orioles, etc. The one I didn’t count on and which surprised me was the blue budgie! The kids also have a basket full of Audubon plush toy birds that sing their song when squeezed, so they are learning to recognize the calls when they hear them outside. We have also been watching videos of bird behavior, and the children “fly” around the yard, making very authentic sounds and movements, protecting nests, etc. It has been a fun project!

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