Ok, so you know how I said in my last post that I like to instill in my kids that parents don’t know it all? Well, let’s just say that I provided a real-life example to my lesson yesterday – all for the kids’ benefit, of course.
We were studying physics – just the introductory stuff, in fact a lesson out of an elementary school physics experiment book. I had perused the material the night before, but honesty I didn’t spend much time on it, figuring that it would be pretty self-explanatory as we went. The lesson was velocity, which as you may know is speed and direction. Speed is distance divided by time. Velocity takes motion into account. I thought that was simple enough… that is until we took a look at a velocity versus time graph. Woah. It blew my mind, because when I think speed and direction, I’m thinking on a two-dimensional plane. If Eva is walking and then veers off to the right, I figured that our velocity versus time graph should reflect the rightward motion. But as it turns out, a velocity versus time graph only considers the forward motion – we’re working in one dimension here.
Please forgive me, physicists, if I got that wrong. And please feel free to provide polite corrections in the comments.
I simply give you this little (hopefully accurate) physics lesson to explain why I was ready to tear my hair out during science class. Eva was working on a separate project, and Ian and I were huddled over graph paper and the experiment book. I felt befuddled. Infuriated. I did what so many students do when they hit a perceived wall: I spent all my energy on the act of being frustrated, which prevented me from calmly working my way through to the solution.
After a while, we came to a sort of understanding and then broke for lunch. At the lunch table, I started laying out clementine peel bits in attempts to further my understanding of our problem, looking to Ian to help me get it. It was then that I had my “aha” moment, realizing visually that I was trying to force my two-dimensional framework on a one-dimensional analysis. Even though Ian got the general concept about 30 minutes before I did, to be honest, neither of us are going to ace a quiz on this subject anytime soon.
I felt bad for being so ill-equipped for this lesson, and that I had let myself fall into a keen state of frustration at my own lack of understanding. I asked Ian what he thought of “class” today. He laughed and said that it wasn’t really “class” as much as us trying to figure out something together. This made me curious so I asked him what he envisioned when he thought of “class.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Homeschool class, or public school class?”
“Either,” I said.
“Well,” he replied after a moment, “I think of class as a time that you bring out a really cool project that we then all work on it together.”
I ate that up. I told him that for the most part, I would come with a good understanding of the subject we were studying, but on occasion class would be like today – that I wouldn’t really understand the gist of the lesson, and that we would have to dig it up together (especially as he gets older). I asked him if that would be ok. I expected him to be disappointed and resistant to this approach, especially taking into account my self-confessed frustration during said lesson. But he surprised me. He said, “oh yeah, Mom. I thought today was really fun!”
That was yesterday. Today is Friday, so we do more fun-focused activities. We’re going to spend each Friday for the next five weeks drawing up various Rube Goldberg sketches in preparation for our month of building. We found the only blank wall in the house and stapled up white butcher paper that had been collecting dust in the corner. The kids loved it and immediately drew up several really cool and quite complicated ideas. They added a lot of humor too. This is going to be so fun.
Next week I’m going to do a series of posts about finding the magic in math. I’ve been wanting to do these posts for several months now, but other topics keep taking priority. However, I just know of too many absolutely wonderful math resources to keep them secret any longer. If you’re looking for ideas to re/ignite your kids or students in their love of the world of numbers, stay tuned!
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