Thursday, May 20, 2010

Math is more than minusing

Ruth Beechick once complained that school readers used to push all the really interesting stories to the back of the book, and maybe you got to them at the end of the year. Supplements in math class can be like that too--if you do them when you get around to them, you may never get around to them. We don't always have to be bound to the Big Fat Math Books, at least not all year long.

I think that's what was wrong with most of the math education I got during school: most of it, progressive as we were all supposed to be in the '70's, was simply arithmetic. A few angles here and there, but mostly it was about doing the basic operations. Once in awhile they hauled out the expensive kits of attribute blocks, or gave us laminated cards with "math experiences" on them, but even the teachers didn't really know how to use that kind of math stuff, so it was always back to arithmetic in the end.

Which, in a way, didn't serve us too badly; at least, as I've said before, I do know my times tables and I don't get caught too often on those silly trick questions like "what's 8 divided by 1/2?".* But I also hit that girl's grade 4 math block around long division, and it was never the same after that. I do know for sure that we never did any math research, or studied mathematicians, or looked at mathematics as something big and interesting that grownup people did. It was just what you did after reading class and before gym.

So I was very interested to read "Mild-Mannered Math No More" by Cheryl Bastarache in The Old Schoolhouse, Winter 2008-9 issue, and to also find it online. This article talks about basing your math course around a math notebook that's full of more than just sums: you can include "notes, copywork, research, challenges, responses, and fun stuff." In other words, like a scientist's journal, or a Book of the Centuries, or a Latin notebook, or any other notebook-with-a-plan like that. A book full of stuff that's actually interesting...and, as Cheryl says, if you're brave enough, you could make that "the centerpiece of your curriculum."

*The answer is 16. 8 divided by 1/2 means how many halves fit into 8?

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