Thursday, 8 January 2015

Getting into and through Algebra

Whoever decided that learning should be "fun" ought to be hung.  Ok, I don't really mean that. Except when I do.  There are two occasions when I do mean that. One is around math and one is around spelling.

Let's slay spelling first - who the heck decided that the best way for a kid to learn how to spell was to make them write the words out using different colours and different twirly writing and writing it diagonally and vertically and do all sorts of silly games and things to fill in?  All the way through primary my son had to endure this.  He never minded writing a word 10 or 20 or 100 times. He did mind taking out the coloured pencils and f***ing around doing silly stuff.  And is there any evidence that it works at all?  I sincerely doubt it, and I'd be darned if there is any credible research behind this.  I'm with Sugata Mitra on this. Yes I do think it is preferable to spell correctly and I do despair of one of my children's inability to spell, but in the scheme of things I just don't think it's a deal breaker.  Especially not if it involves hours of meaningless crappy worksheets at the cost of other learning.  And anyway, everytime he spells something incorrectly in his Instagram it's an opportunity for the smart kids to engage with him and tell him he's done it wrong and correct it!

On to Algebra.  Now my views there are different. I do think algebra is important.  I just had a tough act selling it to a child who came home on Monday practically in tears because he didn't have a clue what had been going on in class that day and the minute I started talking "X" and "Y" had a minor fit. So, when in doubt, google it.  There is a lot of rubbish out there on math and algebra.  But I did find a rather nice YouTube video which explained very nicely why algebra was important, and it aligned exactly with my views (which I didn't know I had - i.e. I knew it was important but was incapable of expressing why properly and in the language that would relate to him).

So it's now Thursday, and I'm happy to report that with the help of the nice big white board, tons of patiences and forbearance on my part and a burning desire to succeed on his, we have progressed remarkably far.  He gets why and he gets that it's just a language and that it's particularly good for lazy people who don't want to write everything out as it makes things as simple as possible with as few letters as possible.  We've done lots of examples of pattern recognition, and converting the expression of simple patterns into equations.  We've also managed to get to the understanding that it's a useful way of generalising an expression so that we can then work anything in a sequence out by applying that expression.  That's a lot of progress in 4 days.  (Just an aside - the optimal moment for working on this is after he's spent an hour running or doing Crossfit!  Yay for exercise).

So today we get the first formal bit of school homework.  OMG the English Teachers have been
talking to the Math teachers!  Don't do it!  It's two worksheets with a bunch of equations embedded in a picture and you solve the equations and then colour the shapes in to see the picture. Now I can tell you right off the bat that he is not going to do that homework. Not because he doesn't want to, but because he HATES this type of homework.  So I make a deal with him.  I'll write out all the equations, he works them out and I'll do the colouring in (yes sweet saints, what the hell am I doing?). We do the first one, he finishes in a flash, and whereas he'd begun by saying he'd do the second one over the weekend, asks me to do the same for the 2nd and tackles it with gusto.  While he does it we have a little discussion over the fact that c+c = 2c = c(squared).   I the sucker, spend a little longer on the colouring but it gets done.

I mean what's the alternative. Being "that" mum and writing to the teacher asking to refrain from this insanity? I'm "that mum" enough I think.   The teacher probably thinks it's "fun" - for the girls maybe.  I just don't get the point.  More meaningful would be a page of equations and them picking out the ones that are equivalent expressions. Or just pages of equations. Or anything.