“I’m A Genius!”


molly_countingblocks-unshackled“I’m a GENIUS!” shouted my nine year old daughter, after spending quite a bit of time and effort working out how much money she has, how much she’s owed (don’t you just love “owing” your kids money?), how much she needs to pay for the next sonic screwdriver in her collection, and how that all works out together! It was like her own personal “word problem”.

Do you remember those tedious, artificial “word problems” from your school days? I sure do! You know, all those long-winded situational maths problems that we were supposed to be turned into mathematical equations so they could be solved? If a train is driving at a speed of….. and the wind is blowing at a speed of… and…  Most of them seemed to be so ridiculous, and hardly likely to happen any time soon! Now if they’d just given us a big chocolate cake (better yet, a recipe and ingredients) and an uneven number of kids, and let the class sort it out, all manner of maths (and other) skills would have been used, and the trail of cake crumbs would have obliterated the “word problems” in the workbooks!

I love the way that opportunities for working with numbers come up so naturally in every day life. There is no need for artificially induced word problems! It was so awesome watching my daughter’s mind at work when she was trying to work out the money for the sonic screwdriver (yes, Doctor Who is one of her current passions!) She ended up donning her “scientist’s lab coat” and calling me her assistant. She used lots of different strategies, and we ended up having some fun with maths blocks and real money too. I love being witness to a child’s innocent, eager, excitable discovery of new knowledge. It’s almost like being able to see the workings of their brain like a cog in a machine, as they process a train of thought. Every so often my daughter’s train would go off on a tangent and lose focus, but then she’d enthusiastically get it back on track again. She was committed to her goal of working out the complexities of her real life “word problem”.

Declan's mythbusters midnight mathematical equationHere is another example: Inspired by watching (yet another) episode of Mythbusters, Mr 12 jumped out of bed just before midnight to share a nugget of wisdom he had gleaned from the show. It was something to do with mathematic probabilities I think. 🙂 As he jabbered on happily, trying to explain what he’d worked out, he was drawing on a pad of paper to aid his monologue. I love that there is no delineation in our family between learning and non-learning times or activities.

And you know what else? There is no need for maths phobia! It amuses me that so many wanna be unschoolers end up declaring “We unschool everything except maths” (which I don’t actually think is possible, but that’s the subject for another day!). Why is maths the subject so many people worry about? I am quite confident that maths phobia is primarily a product of compulsory schooling, maths drills, tests, endless workbooks and yes… word problems! In the absence of “busy work”, with no expectation of “outcomes”, no mandatory testing, no comparisons, and no fake word problems, there is opportunity for real learning to happen naturally. During life’s journey there are endless real life “word problems” that need to be solved, adventures to be had, projects to create, and a whole lot of maths skills that will be required along the way. Maths simply becomes a tool to assist in the living of life, and the discovery of its complexities and beauty is a joyful experience. When particular skills are needed to do the things that someone wants to do, and resources are on hand (such as the internet, books and manipulatives), the learning is not tedious, but practical and relevant. It is real learning in the context of real life.

So let’s see if we can work out this problem: What do you get when you combine a child who is undamaged by the expectations and requirements of school or school-at-home, an attentive and involved parent, resources on hand to assist the learning process as required, and a real life problem begging for an answer?

A child with an untampered love of learning….

A child with a confidence in their ability to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it….

A child who, instead of being told they’re in the bottom 10% of the state, or 25th out of a class of 30, or “isn’t trying hard enough”, is aware that there will always be something new to learn, and that they will be able to work it out….

A child who, instead of needing to stay on top of the heap to keep feeling good about themselves, can simply and confidently say of themselves (without reference or regard to anyone else’s ability):



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