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Friday, November 27, 2009

Math Magic

Some folks have asked, how could you possibly unschool math?

Here's the secret. Shhh. Math is fun. Really. Arithmetic? Well, not so much, at least, not always. We learn arithmetic so we can do the fun stuff. In our homeschooling we do the fun stuff, and pick up the arithmetic on the way. What's fun? Statistics and probability. (Ask any gamer!) Geometry is fun. (Ask an artist.) Analytical geometry is one of my favorites. The connection between music and math is fascinating. There's so much in math. Something for everyone at every stage.

I'm not what some would call a strict "unschooler". I call us eclectic. Although to anyone who does "school at home" we probably look pretty unschooly, the radical unschoolers don't want to own us. So my approach might not work at your house, but here it is, for what it's worth.

As with anything, I look at what our goals are. Our goals do not track with public school standards, rather they are linked to what we need to do and what we want to do. We don't have to wait for a certain score on a timed test before we get to the fun stuff. Sometimes we want to know something that will never be covered in school. My oldest wants to program robots, my middlest wants to double a cookie recipe, my youngest wants to help with the bird count. These are all practical reasons to want to learn math and that's a great place to start.

For my youngest (5yo), working on counting is still necessary, yet he can correctly add single digit numbers. What's up with that? Well, I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I'm working on him not skipping 12 when he counts. We play games, count steps, etc. and I know it'll come in time.

My middlest (8yo) is a little scary around math. During a recital last spring he leaned over to ask me a question. I expected something like this:
8yo "Mom, what instrument is that?"
me: "French horn"

What really happened:
8yo "Mom? Is the square root of one hundred ten?"
me: "French horn." "Um. I mean. Yes." "Pay attention."

So I don't worry about where he's at mathematically. We just have fun with it. He's enjoyed the ChildCraft book "Mathemagic" ($.50 at Goodwill). A day after reading the chapter on early number systems he showed me his own made up system. Now that's unschooling!

My oldest (11 yo) has just this year started a math curriculum (Math U See). It's the first curriculum we've ever used for anything. So far it's worked out ok. We started using a curriculum for a couple of reasons. For one, we could both tell he was getting to a point where his lack of rigor in arithmetic was starting to slow him down. Also, he was coming up on his state required 5th grade national standardized tests. Even though I don't put much stock in such things, I knew that if he took it and totally boffed it he'd feel bad, and that there was no reason with just a little work he couldn't do well on it. He's also getting to an age where he's self motivated and able to work semi-independently, so it wouldn't be too hard on me to help him. (Always an important consideration!) One thing that has made this work is that after looking through the materials we agreed he doesn't have to do anything but the tests unless/until he didn't understand the subject matter.

There are many resources available for learning math. I think it's more important to find resources that inspire wanting to learning math. The best one stop "shopping" I've found is the Living Math website. With the reading list and your local library you will find something that inspires your kid. The Math Circle usually has something interesting posted to play with.

What have you found that inspires you to play with math?


Obery family said...

It's oh so consumer based but money is what motivates my kiddos! We started a: if you find it, and if you can count it, you can keep it policy at out house. It took about a week for my (then) 5yr old to identify all coins from the washing machine and determine their values, as well as adding them up. Now we've moved on to coin collecting. What a coin was worth - what it is worth now - etc... Yesterday was our first ever coin show - and we discovered it's about history as much as it's about math! Oh, the excitement!

April said...

You make a great point. I totally forgot to mention money, but it was a huge factor in learning the basics for my oldest a few years ago. Of course, he didn't realize it was "math", but he was learning addition, subtraction, fractions, and percentages. A wonderful example of how learning happens all the time in real life.

While my middlest isn't so money motivated, even now money helps us learn. We have coin jars and when they get full the kids get to count the change into rolls and then choose what charity gets it. Great fun!

Pennies are the ultimate manipulatives. And so in expensive. ;-)