Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Math At The Art Table

Before my epiphanies about glue guns, I was a big advocate for white glue and lots of it. We would start the school year by ordering eight gallons of the stuff and that still wasn't typically enough to get us to the Spring. In those days, lakes of glue were commonplace, especially when we had a glue table going, but in recent years, the glue gun has supplanted many of our white glue applications.

Still, white glue has it's place, if only because it's nice for the adults to have a break from the vigilance necessitated by hot glue guns, even if it does mean chasing the kids around with damp rags.

In contrast, something that hasn't changed are my middle class bag lady tendencies and one of the things I've been collecting for a long time are all those cardboard bits and pieces of games and puzzles from which other vital bits and pieces are missing. You know what I'm talking about: the rest of the deck of playing cards, old domino game cards, matching game parts, jigsaw pieces. I've been collecting and curating my box of said materials long enough that the children who originally rendered the games and puzzles no longer useful are today sitting in high school classrooms.

It's taken a couple months, but the cardboard boxes in which our school supplies arrived this Fall have finally begun to wear out, so their final use is now to be cut down into squares and rectangles to be used as platforms for glue collage involving our box of game and puzzle parts.

We've been doing it at the "art table," but it's really a math project in which kids, with no prompting, no coaxing, no nagging, take it upon themselves to create order from chaos, experimenting with ways to sequence, pattern, and group what they're finding in the box. And that's all mathematics is after all, no matter how brain-breaking the formula: sequencing, patterning, and grouping. Contrary to its reputation, math is in fact a pleasurable activity, one that most young children engage in naturally as part of their play, exploring the relationships between things, creating truth and beauty from them.

This is where we traditionally go wrong in teaching mathematics, I think. It won't be long before these same eager kids will need the prompting, coaxing, and nagging. It won't be long before these kids will be complaining that "math is hard." It's because we've got it all backwards. For some reason we have this idea that we ought to first abstract mathematical concepts into codes on paper, into algorithms and formulas, when, in fact, math, real math, is a natural part of our day-to-day lives, something to be first understood through practical application, much the way we first understand language before abstracting it into reading and writing. 

Math is something best understood with a glue bottle in your hand. The rest can come later. Much later.

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1 comment:

Sue- Australia said...

I'm sure my colleagues cringe each Xmas holiday when I declutter my home and bring all the stuff to kindy!
One cull included playing cards and I included them as a numeracy resource pretty much like you have shared....
Thanks for making me feel I just might be on the right track sometimes!