“Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas, what Coleridge calls, the ‘Captain’ ideas, which should quicken imagination” Charlotte Mason, (Vol. 6, p. 233).
I am a mother of twin sons. Fortunately, they both enjoy and are inspired by the beauty and creativity of mathematics. However, that joy of learning mathematics did not necessarily come from the classroom. Their classroom math instruction was often uninspiring. It was all about rote memorization and following procedures. It lacked any connection to the real world. There was little or no focus on building number sense and visualizing big mathematical ideas.
I remember one day being stopped by Jordan’s second grade teacher and being told that he needed to learn to “slash and trash.” If you are not familiar with the term it is what a teacher might use to describe borrowing from the tens place in order to subtract in the ones place. I assured her that Jordan did not need to “slash and trash” because he had developed his own subtraction algorithm and by creating it himself it made sense to him. The teacher wanted him to use her algorithm because it was the one that she understood. Memorizing a procedure does not “quicken the imagination”.
I could write on and on about elementary math experiences that my children had or did not have. But fortunately my children received the math instruction they needed, not through a textbook or a curriculum but through games, puzzles, play, and everyday life. Andrew had a toy cash register with play money and no one could walk up and down the stairs without first stopping to pay their “fee”. He learned quickly what each coin was worth and how to make change. When we traveled we played silly (very silly) car games that kept them occupied on the long trip from Roanoke to Memphis (my hometown). One game was to find numbers on license plates that could be used to “make 10”. At first they would just look for a “10” but then progressed to finding a plate with a 7 and a 3 so that could add 7 + 3 =10 or a 5 and a 2, 5x 2=10 or maybe even a 6,1,3 to make the sum 6 + 1 + 3=10. They were engaged for miles. We are a family that recreates in mathematics.
My children always loved to come home from school and talk about the science lesson. Science was hands-on, messy, fun, inspiring, and engaging. It explored the world around them. They would want to come home and re-create every experiment and then they would start asking those important questions – why? how? how much? They wanted to recreate in science. Science was quickening their imagination.
I have always believed that math needs to be learned in a setting more like science. Math needs to be touched, visualized, explored, and connected to the world around us. It needs to be explored through cooking, sewing, travel, games, building, gardening and so much more. It is a tool to understand other subjects like science, geography and history. Math is multi-dimensional and needs to be taught as such. Too many math classrooms are one-dimensional only focusing on memorizing and procedures. The ability to create a rich mathematical learning environment is only limited by your creativity as parent or teacher. But it will take time. It is a much bigger challenge than simply selecting a textbook and moving from one disconnected lesson to the next. However, a rich multi-dimensional mathematical learning environment will indeed “quicken the imagination” of your children and give them the opportunity to find beauty in mathematics and to begin to see themselves as mathematicians.
Suzanne Bazak lives and works in Roanoke, VA. She will give a pre-conference immersion at the Eastern Conference on teaching mathematics to young children. Join her in June. Learn more at www.charlottemasoninstitute.org.