Thursday, July 7, 2011

Delicious morsel or building block?

So much of what we do can be driven by our own past experiences and firm resolutions as a result of those experiences.  We take those resolutionss into the world and create new experiences for ourselves and for those around us.  They get to have these experiences, decide how they will experience them, make whatever resolutions they choose, and the circle goes on.  I'm creating my piece of such a circle with my parenting and homeschooling.

I've been thrilled with Tef's recent posts A Way of Thinking and The Third Choice.  They have inspired my thinking about the continuous human laboratory that is my home.  It's the place we live and learn and live out our learnings, every day.  For me, there is no more natural place for 'school' than home.  So we homeschool.  I get to test out my theories, waffle often, flip-flop several times, figure out my own way forward, and, with some grace, allow the children room to figure out their own way to live and learn.

It's 1976 and I'm learning the 2 times tables.  Why?  Dunno, but it was easy, so no reason to ask why.  Plus, Jamaican 6 year olds knew better than to ask why in 1976!  The ruler or switch was right there in the teacher's hand.  So happily, I recited the 2 times tables to the pleasure of my teachers.  Then they told me to learn the 3 times tables, and the confusion began.  I couldn't find the pattern!  It took a little while, but I finally learned it, and the 4's, 6's, and all the rest.  Thank God for the 5's, 10's and 11's and 12's.  They had some rules I could see clearly.

I remember the practice drills. "Faith, tell the class 6 times 8."  I had no idea! I started in my mind: "6 times one is 6.  6 times 2 is 12. 6 times 3 is ...." as fast as I could until  "6 times 8 is 48".  To this day, I have to do that, except now I know 6x6 is 36, so I start there.  I could never do calculations in my head.  I figured everything out on paper.  Isaiah marvelled for a long time "You have a double major in math and computer science".  "Mathematics is more than numbers" was my ready retort.

So fastforward to 2004 and I'm looking for some extra money for Jaedon's biomedical program.  I've spent most of my working life teaching, so I decide to teach for the Sylvan Learning Center.  This was my first expereince teaching elementary level mathamatics.  For the first time in my life, I became aware of number patterns and so much of the beauty in arithmatic that I had never seen before.  Actually, I saw the algebra in arithmetic.  Actually, I saw that they were both the same.  A couple years later, I was introduced to Caleb Gattegno and his methods of teaching math.  I was blown away.  Arithmetic and algebra became visual and I could see that 4/3 of 6 is 8.  I didn't have to employ some strange algorithm that I confused depending on whether I was going across an equal sign or ....

I felt cheated!  This was there all along?  Here I was slaving away memorizing stuff that could just be seen? Be understood intuitively?  It wasn't right!  I had been busy acquiring building blocks with no idea of their individual craftsmanhip. Now, looking at them, these blocks were beautiful! Delicious! I resolved to build this search for the beauty, the why, the meaning, into all the stuff we explore at home in 'school'.

With that system reasonably well implemented, I'm now thinking about The Third Choice.  How can I build in meaning AND improve speed of learning and retention?  I have to admit that the previous question for me is unanswered: Do I even want to improve the speed of learning and retention?  Though I think 'yes' is an obvious answer, I'm not so sure.  I'm concerned about the missed steps when speed is my focus, the missed important crawling stage when walking is the priority.  Deep down, I do believe that the children will learn anything they set their minds to, and their lives and choices will stir their motivation to learn some things really quickly and others at a more moderate pace.

So given that they can learn quickly whatever they want to learn, I'm really trying to build motivation for what I want them to learn, hoping that they will agree to its usefulness, or at least learn something about the process of knowledge and skill aquisition that they can apply to whatever they want to learn.  So what do I want them to learn quickly?

It just depends... somethings are to be savord slowly, some things are like a stepping stone, a building block, a means to an end.  I think at 2 years old, there is a delicious savoring of the learning to walk process.  What wonder and excitement!  A delicious morsel.  I think that the 30 year old accident victim who uses his legs for both work and recreation may not savor the learning to walk process.  He may have a 'let's be done with it' mindset.  So today's morsel can be tomorrow's stepping stone, or even today's stepping stone.  As I said, it depends...

I did the bunny hop while counting by 3's and 4's and sang songs counting by all manner of numbers and I loved it!  A delicious morsel. I'm delighted at the thought of doing it with Zachary (though who Zach is ... he knows his own mind).  Not knowing the times tables was not a hinderance.  We savored the process of discover and exploration.  We observed the patterns in the numbers.  I saw new patterns every day.  Who knows what the 6 and 9 year old saw.  I was having fun!

I'm now ready to build on that fun in some new ways, and times tables would be a great building block to stand on.   A stepping stone.  Something firm and established.

In my own process, I developed building blocks and saw beauty later.  I'm trying to orchestrate my children's process so they can see the beauty first, then step on the functional, sturdy building block.  What about doing them both?  The idea had never occured.  A clear intention in both directions!  My mind is spinning.  The idea that we can have wonderful leisurly fun slowly exploring some idea, then in a second, step on it, and several other ideas, straight through to some distantly related concept that we slowly, deliciously explore, then hop back to firm up our building blocks as we need to, why that is fantastic!  That is so, ... natural.  That is the way we live our lives now.  Some things are just utility.  I have no idea of the beauty of a car's transmission.  I just drive the car.  Yet, at any time, I can get into transmission and devour it as a delicious morsel.  I have to think about all this some more. 

By the way, are there any processes that you have created because they really are the best way of doing the things you need done?  Are you locked into those?  Please apply Teflon's Axiom of Choice  (mentioned here).

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