“I’m not one of those creative types,” said the Google analyst sitting next to me in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for our flight to San Francisco—delayed for an hour. Continue reading
What does Allan and Elise’s experience tell us about the essential elements of an educational moment?
Shucking Corn with Elise
By Allan Stern
Half way into her first year in high school Clair came to her mother and said, “I think I need a tutor in math.”
Her mother was delighted and a little surprised at the request: delighted because Clair asked for help, and surprised because she didn’t know her daughter cared that much about her academic success. She immediately set to the task and in short order found a math tutor with an excellent reputation.
Several months later the tutor told Clair’s mother (Jill) that he thought Clair should get tested to see if “there were some organic reason” she was having such a hard time Continue reading
Learning Mathematics in Real Life
How to behave in public is something the students at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Oakland, California, practice daily on their two-block walk to the park for lunch, recess and physical education. Continue reading
One day second grader Miranda said: “I was in the garden looking at the tomatoes with Patrice and Josh, and we saw a wasp tackling a fly. Then it tore the fly’s head off and flew away with the body. An ant found the head and started eating it and the fly’s eyes separated from its head.”
The teacher asked, “What did you think about when you were watching this happen?”
She replied, “I thought, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I wouldn’t want to be that fly.”
Later that same afternoon Sasha and Kate joined in the insect hunt and Kate said, “The garden seems to be so calm when you first look at it but when you look closer it’s very alive.”
On another day first graders found the front half of a dead snake and immediately started generating hypotheses as to what happened: Continue reading
Ah, those smooth, splinter-free blocks of maple! Just reading about them in the New York Times last Sunday connected me to my childhood like almost nothing else could. I spent hours on the floor with them on into my early teens when sports, girls and boarding school finally tore me away from them. I built and built and built, designing and redesigning as I went, learning the relationships among quantities Continue reading
Dominique, age 8, sat in front of a computer screen doing addition problems—level one on Khan Academy.
When 9 + 3 = ? appeared on the screen, “That’s easy,” she said, and started hunting for 1 on the keyboard. She was new to the computer, and it was slower than she was. Nonetheless her approach was determined and persistent. She found the 1, hit it with her forefinger, found 2 next to it, hit that, moved the curser to the green “Check answer” button and clicked. For her efforts she got a smiley face. A bright bar of royal blue appeared in the success bar just above the answer box, and Dominique smiled. Continue reading
The most important thing we can do to ensure that our children speak mathematics when they are older is to make sure that mathematics is part of their world during their first 10 years of life. Continue reading
Last week Madeleine, one of my virtual friends who writes limericks, asked me if I would be celebrating Tau Day, June 28th. After watching this video, I think you will all agree that Tau Day is worth celebrating if only as a reminder that creativity is an essential element of education. Perhaps creativity is the essential element of education, (Would Sir Ken Robinson agree?), and play is at the heart of creativity.
Sure Pi=3.14159…, and it is useful to know how to calculate the circumference of a circle, but kids learn anything better when they experience it in the context of something real to them. You don’t really know it until you can turn it upside down, reverse it, negate it, and see what happens.
This is what is going on when we play with something. It seems frivolous because it doesn’t seem goal directed, but it is goal directed. The goal is brain development. Continue reading
Today, when (and if) the sun comes out, take a child outside and measure the shadow of something, and say, “Today, June 21st, is the longest day of the year. Let’s see how long the shadow is. Let’s pick something and mark the end of the shadow so that we can watch the shadow get longer as the summer goes on.”
All sorts of questions could come up depending upon the age of the child and the interests of the participants, for example:
What could we use to measure?
Could we use one of Daddy’s shoes? My shoe, Baby’s foot,
How could we use a tape measure?
What is the relationship of Daddy’s shoes to my shoes?
What is the ratio?
Do we need to pick a fixed time?”
…and so on and so on.
It is common for parents to ritualize story time every day. This is a good thing. To read to your children before he or she goes to bed is the most important thing parents can do to ensure that their children will grow up to be readers. It not only models something that you value, it builds your relationship, and gives you a time to be with your child in loving, fun, calm, quiet, spiritually enriching ways. Stories are the staff of mental life and relationships.
What if we had a curiosity ritual? This week we play around with sinking and floating; next week we notice the flight of balloons, or the creation of bubbles. What if parents were ritualistic about doing a cooking project with their kids every weekend?
Why do Americans do so badly in mathematics? Because mathematics is a foreign language in America. The vast majority of children grow up in a number-poor environment. We’ve forgotten that the language of mathematics is founded in curiosity. We too often think of mathematics as rules rather than as questions. This is like thinking of stories as grammar. Being curious together can be a really special part of the relationship in families. Continue reading