Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How Math Should Be Taught

I was one of those students that had an intense fear of math. I could do basic sums, division, multiplication and division and word problems. This fear almost became a disability and it did eventually land me in a Resource Specialist Class, precursor to Special Education. Many of my career choices evolved around, "Well, your not that good in math" statement. Really? What always confused me was how I could understand math in science and in the real world, but not in the classroom? In graduate school I actually excelled in my Statistic classes. Why?

It wasn't until I started my Waldorf teacher training that I think I stumbled upon the answer. 

Math is not taught correctly in school. 

Rudolf Steiner says, "We should educate children so that all their concepts are capable of growth, that thier concepts and will impulses are really alive."  Yesterday, I posted the new Common Core math "concepts." You can read and cry about here. 

The Waldorf elementary schools mathematics is taught as a connection with life in a joyful and clear manner.

Math is approached as movement or a kinesthetic learning experience, especially in the younger grades. How many of remember sitting in class with a math page in front of us with brightly colored apples and we were suppose to subtract the apples eaten by the worm? The use of movement, which means the children actually get up and move, brings the concepts of math into the will of the child. Or into the muscle memory of the child. All four process are addressed early in the 1st grade through fun and real movment. This means that through rhythmic movement and games Kindergarten through fourth grade learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and even division. Children are also encouraged to use beans or glass beads (treasures, gold and diamonds) to understand the relationships that are part of the process of math.

The teacher also uses imaginative math stories where the children participate in solving the world problems the characters of the stories need to solve. This allows for a "living" math to develop within the children. In Viking Boy's class he has been introduced to King Addition, Lady Divide, Sir Multiplication and Minus the Careless Gnome. 

"Minus is a careless gnome who loses all his things.

Math is taught as a living connection and in relationships. This is why I understood math in science and in the real world. 

An unique quality to Waldorf education is the use of Main Lesson books instead of text books. Students are encouraged to create their during Main Lesson their own Lesson Books. Instead of repetitive drills, math becomes alive through the use of art, drawing, and illustration. This is how math becomes a living connection with the children. 

The Fraction Tree found in a Main Lesson Book

Waldorf "Golden Rule":

1. Relate everything to the human being so that the child has a sense that the world is a manifestation of human reality. "Why do we need algebra?" is often asked in the Public High School. Relate algebra to money management then it becomes easy.

2. Teach from the whole to the parts. Start with a feeling connection to the whole, before going into the details. 

3. Begin with activity. Experiences come before abstraction. 

4. Engage first the feelings of the children, since they learn best when their feeling life is activated. What does this mean? Have you noticed how quickly people learn fractions when slicing up a piece of pie or pizza?

5. Involve also the will of the children in activity and involve also the thinking capacity. 

6. Have a practical element. Make whatever you do concrete and useful so that the child can experience the connection with his or her world. 

7. Take into account the development stage of the child. This is serious concern with me in which I have posted about it many times. How can a child learn if concepts are beyond their developmental range? Yesterday's post discusses this fact with Common Core Math. I have also discussed my concerns here about the Age Appropriateness of State Standards. 

8. Work with the qualities of truth, goodness, beauty and wonder. 

6th Grade Math

9. Look ahead in the curriculum so that seeds for future growth in mathematical understanding can be planted year by year as the child grows and progresses. 

10. Do not teach the subject matter in isolation but that all the subjects are taught together to show relationships. For example, in the sixth grade children are studying Rome, the Middle Ages and the Arabic and Islamic culture. During this time traders from India brought their goods to Baghdad and brought the new and revolutionary mathematical idea of ZERO!! During the third grade year, children study the Old Testament. This is the perfect time to use the story of Noah's Ark and teach the concept of measurement. 

It is the teacher's responsibility to bring about a relationship between mathematics and the students; to make a connection. Math should, and I can't stress this enough, be introduced and taught so that the children can make a connection with themselves and the math. If math is introduced as an abstract too early, the children feel lost and math becomes meaningless.

Math is taught through the fourth grade as concrete, practical and closely connected with the real world. Math is taught in 2 hour Main Lesson blocks over a four to six week period. Then the children are allowed to "breath" while learning another concept. However, the new math skills are artfully incoroporated into other lessons.  

Rudolf Steiner said, "At first one should endeavor to keep entirely to the concrete in arithmetic, and above all avoid abstractions before the child comes to the turning point of the ninth and tenth years. Up to this point keep to the concrete as far as possible, by connecting everything directly with life."

This is how math should be taught in the elementary grades. Period.

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