Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Smiling Over Unschoolers and Maths Text Books


Last year, Sophie declared she hated maths. She would sigh deeply every time I logged her into her online maths course. I decided there had to be a better way to learn this subject. I decided to take the unschooling approach and let Sophie learn maths in her own time in her own way, encouraging her along with some clever strewing of interesting maths experiences. And it was going OK until the other day…

Gemma-Rose wanted to know how to add up decimal problems.

“Grab a piece of scrap paper and I’ll show you,” I offered and then added,“Would you like to try an example?” Gemma-Rose nodded and I wrote out several addition problems.

After completing these correctly, she asked, “Can I have some more please, Mum?”

I wrote out some more and then said, “I should have written these in an exercise book.”

Gemma-Rose’s eyes lit up. An exercise book? That sounded exciting. She'd never used one of those before. She slid off the sofa and headed to the bookshelf, returning with a brand new exercise book. I wrote out several maths problems for her… and then several more.  

Sophie appeared. “I’ve been thinking, Mum… Charlotte has lots of interesting books she reads each day. I should have a collection of books too. Do we have any books on electricity?” I pointed to the big bookshelf in the family room and soon Sophie was happily browsing.

Suddenly there was a squeal of delight. “Look what I found!” she cried, holding up several old battered maths text books I’d used years ago with the older children. “Look Gemma-Rose! Here’s one for your age and I could use this one… Can I have an exercise book too please, Mum?”

This morning the girls pulled out those old maths text books. I could hear them talking.

“What do I do?” asked Gemma-Rose.

“You have to write the answers in the exercise book. You write down the number of the question and then the answer... and the date at the top of the page.”

Both girls flipped through the books until they found something they thought looked challenging but not too difficult. They both asked me for help a couple of times. Then it was marking time. “Do you think you could add ticks when I get them right, Mum?”

After about half an hour, Sophie said, “I think that’s enough. Let’s do something else. Will you read some more of Anne of the Island to us please, Mum?" The maths books were abandoned and we all settled down to enjoy a story.

I can't believe it. I spend so much time and effort trying to strew interesting maths experiences in front of my daughters and they are excited by the traditional school text book method. I guess, to them it’s a novelty. Ticks and exercise books, writing the date on the page… these things are all very interesting to someone who hasn't done them before.

Should I object? Perhaps I should jump up and down and cry: "You're unschoolers! Quick! Hide the books before anyone sees!" Should I say, "You'll lose your love of learning doing maths this way"? No. I smile. I think it's very funny.

I get the feeling my girls are playing ‘school’. Do you remember doing that when you were a child? I’d line up my younger sisters, pass out the pencils and exercise books and we’d pretend we were at school. Eventually my sisters would get fed up of having to work and would abandon the game and run off to do something else. It was only the ‘teacher’ that really had any fun.

So I fully expect the girls to eventually run off to do something else too. I am sure they will want a more interesting way to learn this subject. But that’s OK. I won't insist they continue with the text books if they don't want to do it. It would be a waste of time because as Gemma-Rose pointed out, “You can’t make me learn anything I don’t want to learn.”  And as Sophie said, "If you want to learn something you have to be interested in it."

I will again have to either leave maths until a time when they see a need for learning it, or I will have to actively strew experiences that will convince the girls they need and want to learn maths. I will have to engage their interest. A real life maths experience? Something that is relevant? Could I repeat something that has worked before?

Could I go to another clothes shop sale and then ask my maths-magicians to help out? Could I get Gemma-Rose to add up my purchases? Maybe she could also add up what I would have spent if I'd bought the clothes at the original prices. Will that involve some work with percentages? Sophie could do that. And how much money will I have saved? 

But the big question, the most important question of all is... How will I spend all the money I save? My mind is conjuring up all kinds of possibilities. Maths? It really is a most interesting subject. 


Some possibly interesting maths resources

We have tried the Mangahigh online maths website. The girls like playing the computer games which need a knowledge of maths. They are not so keen on the more formal maths 'challenges' which are timed. The resources on the website can be dipped into in an informal way which is how my girls have been using them.

My sister Vicky found a site called Yummy Maths which uses real life examples to teach maths. I haven't yet used it although it looks interesting. I think the younger girls would find the problems too difficult. Worked answers and extra resources are accessible for a $12 annual subscription.

And then there's real life experience...

8 comments:

  1. I felt encouraged by this. Our younger girls aren't really interested in formal Maths. They both have different interests and Maths just crops up when it's needed. But, on the positive side, our 14 year old (you know who) spent years avoiding any school work, at all, and has just decided to 'start school' in the past year. He picked up a Maths textbook for his age group and is doing fine! Would you believe it?!

    I need to remind myself of these positives, every now and then, because it's so easy to lose sight of the big picture when you don't follow a curriculum, I think - particularly, when we go through periods of concentrating on just art and music.

    Thank you for sharing and encouraging, Sue:-)

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    1. Vicky,

      Yes, I would believe you-know-who is doing great with an age appropriate maths book! I was reading somewhere that if formal maths is left until an older age, all the principles and skills can be learnt in a very small number of hours. Instead, we spend a lot of time drilling our children each year when they are not really ready or interested, and they all end up at the same place in the end anyway.

      Sophie continually surprises me. She has so many ideas of her own about what she wants to learn. When she found those maths text books and shrieked with delight, I couldn't help smiling. I am totally confident that she will end up learning all she needs to know.

      Art and music? There's a lot of maths in music!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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  2. Hi Sue,

    You could certainly make math lessons out of every day life! Going to the store is a great example or going to a restaurant or a gas station. There are unlimited possibilities. So even though one doesn't like math, (I have no interest in it either) it will come up in every day life. Not Algebra or Geometry perhaps but certainly the basics.

    My husband is very good at this. He'll unhappily point out a dinner bill from the restaurant like "The price of our 3 cokes is equivalent to a case of pop at the store." I was completely disturbed when I realized how much they mark up the pop at a restaurant. His brain works that way though... always working the numbers.

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    1. Noreen,

      You are quite right! There are so many occasions when we use maths in our everyday lives and we don't even realise.

      I'm always doing calculations like your husband: "If I run 7 laps of the bush tracks, how many laps of the playing fields will I have to run to do the equivalent?" or "It's 5 km along the road to the next village. How many laps of the tracks would I need to run to go the same distance?" I often muse out loud and the girls help me work it all out. We find these sorts of questions very interesting!

      Sometimes I think it's not worth eating out, the prices are so inflated. I love your use of the word 'pop'. We call fizzy drinks 'soft drinks'. Don't ask me why! It doesn't make much sense to me either. I think the word pop is used in the UK too.

      Lovely to chat with you, Noreen!

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  3. I was never good at Maths. I think for some people it's a mental block.

    God bless.

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    1. Victor,

      Maybe maths was never taught to you in the right way. If it doesn't seem relevant, it might not make much sense. I actually love the challenge of working through maths problems. I like how there's always a right answer, though sometimes I can't work out what it is!

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  4. I smiled whe I read this, Sue. Your kids sound so sweet and helpful to each other. They make a good point about having to be interested in something to learn it. This just makes good sense. Math is not Michaela's favorite subject but she loves playing Math games on the computer because they make it fun and interesting.

    I loved your comment about indulgences on my recent post. Have you read the post Victor put up on his blog yet? It's hilarious! He put indulgences into perspective on that one!

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    1. Mary,

      I am so glad each of my girls has a sister close in age: Imogen has Charlotte, Sophie has Gemma-Rose. They really are best friends. We don't see many people from week to week so it is nice the girls have each other. Occasionally they have a disagreement but on the whole, they all get on fine.

      There's some great maths games on Mangahigh which the girls enjoy. They have to think quickly! How is Michaela getting on at school? Is she more settled? I'm still keeping you all in my prayers.

      I haven't yet read Victor's post. I saw it in my feed but it's been a busy morning... I shall treat myself to some blog browsing this afternoon. Your posts have been so interesting, Mary. I am really enjoying the discussion and the laughs we've been having while talking about some quite serious topics. Perhaps I'd better read Victor's post before writing my own one about indulgences!

      God bless you!

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