Tuesday, 21 September 2010

I invent fish maths

This is a problem with home education. There's always a subject or an area you're bloody rubbish at talking about.

In Grit's case, it's maths. Now I can work out ten per cent off the price of a decent-sized handbag, simultaneously sustaining in my brain the knowledge that it's fifty per cent overpriced and that there is a finite limit to my bank account. Yet I will still come out with the answer that it's a bargain.

Some people say that is enough. This is real-life maths, suitable for a real-life world. And a child starts showing inclination and disposition in this real world soon enough. If they are going to be sharp with maths, it'll show, you'll know. They lead the way. You know how to help.

Similarly, if they are determined to become an illustrator, then there is little point forcing them through two hundred and seventy-two school hours of algebra hoops. You can make the kid jump if you poke enough pointed sticks behind them, but the numbers won't travel along.

These examples really support an education that is responsive, child-centred, easy going. One which doesn't set up kids for failures but which matches their inclinations and needs.

Of course you have to know each child. And if you are determined to introduce higher level maths even with your illustrator, you could. Theoretically, I could do the algebra in a way relevant to illustrative techniques and printing requirements. Then it will stick in their brain like cement mortar to brick. I could do that, if I knew any algebra.

But this is my point. There is always that area for which your child needs your help, but which you are crap at. They may have started to help themselves, looked at it, burst into tears, and looked to you for explanation.

For example. Shark says she would like to study marine biology. I have put her in front of a lot of fish over many years. Recently, she has become aware of a need for maths to sit a degree course. I guess there is a little maths to be done there, what with the waves and all. You see I'm already at my limits.

And this is where I feel my great weakness. I am simply crap at maths. I start off with good intentions, which is bad enough. But then it all gets worse. This is how it goes.

'Well, Shark. I'm sure I can help you understand decimals. Um. Here is the number ten. You can divide it up! Into bits and then bits of bits, like points. Um. Um. OK, let's think of this number as a big fish. And we are dividing it up into bits and points. Um. OK, here is a fin. It's a green fin, and the fish has ten green fins all over. I'm chopping off one of the fins. Yes, maybe I'm a predator, and I eat green fins from this fish. Now I'm pulling off some more fins. There. I've collected all these fins. And that makes point six. I think. Anyway. Let's say it does. Get it? Oh. Go and ask daddy.'

A simple answer would be convenient, but I know life doesn't work like that. So I shall continue to stick her in front of more maths websites, keep drawing pictures of pointed fish that look like something from a weapons establishment, take her to more lectures by Marcus du Sautoy, buy in the services of a maths teacher, invent fish maths fun, print off two thousand worksheets, confess my ignorance, and hope basically that she just gets on with it. That one day it all clicks into place without me making it worse.

But if someone would like to tell me right now that a fishy-related degree is really all about patting rays in feeding tanks, you can be sure I'll let her know, and I'll heave a big sigh of mathematical relief.


sharon said...

Maths tutor - that's the way to go I'm sure. I'd be no help at all, I couldn't even pass Maths at 'O' level, and I tried twice.

MadameSmokinGun said...

What is all this obsession with maths anyway? I was crap at it at school - all the way through - and knew it. (And regularly reminded of it). So worked out ways round it all the way through. Such as: a) Sit next to someone who's good at it and copy her - fine until Junior 3, when her viola classes left me uncovered - was usually sent to the back to paint the frieze instead (easier for all concerned; b) Ignore all the maths questions in the 11+ exam until I'd finished it, then went back and looked at them after - not caring if I did or didn't do them (and I passed = ?); c) Carry on using my fingers and scribbling out columns of things everyone else either just knew or used a calculator for, despite being laughed at - you can't humiliate someone who doesn't give a shit; d) dismissed things like logarithms as utter nonsense and again looked them up in a book to pass the time rather than using the calculator etc etc

Then went to art college.

Later I worked in a shop (an art materials shop - see? Continuity!). The electronic till often died (power cuts etc) and everyone would stand and stare blankly at each other - assistants and customers alike - saying 'We did art. Can't do maths...' And guess who was the only person there who could scribble in columns all the prices, and work out 10% discounts, AND get the change right? Yes - little old me. Paper and pen technology. You can SEE it.

Calculators are fab for adding up lots of things but I still don't trust them - after all it's still me who's tapping in stuff and I'm crap with numbers - so I do everything 3 times over and always get a different answer. Their true value is for writing GOOLIES or BOOBIES on the screen.

The only thing I seem to repeat to Minx is 'Columns girl! The secret to maths is nice neat columns!!!' Other than that - we do pocket money and the Argos catalogue.

But she can do Sudoku. So that means she's already way ahead of me.

Sorry - rabbiting on again..........

Big mamma frog said...

Oh God! I have the same thing with explaining maths to my kids. I can't even find the right vocabulary let alone put a mathematical sentence together that makes sense. Stupid thing is...I did A level maths...and I passed. Stick this bit of info into this formula and I can do it. But ask me to explain maths to a 9 year old and I am totally dumb.

6 yr old dd was asking me why you write two thousand and ten like this: 2010, rather than 200010. So I went on for a very long time about units and tens and hundreds and filling places and other stuff that I vaguely thought might have some relevance. Eventually she rolled her eyes and simply walked away.

Big mamma frog said...

p.s. I showed my kids how to write BOOBIES on the calculator and they weren't half as impressed as I was at their age. Pah! These kids don't know they're born. In my day writing BOOBIES on a calculator was our main source of daily entertainment.

Sam said...

My two thought writing BOOBIES on a calculator was hysterical. They even started playing and experimenting with the calculator! Maths without nagging, I thought! But no ;-)

I did a degree in maths, and I love maths - they still roll their eyes at me.

I like Miquon Maths for hands-on maths understanding. (workbooks with very good teacher guide). Open-ended, and all about the learner discovering how it all works for themselves.
Much easier than chopping fins off fish, I'd say :-)

Grit said...

i think in time i will, sharon. we look at primary maths and i am at my limit. and shark will set her eyes on passing maths exams, i know it, regardless of what i might think of their worth or value.

mme sg! i feel we are kindred spirits. i would sit in exactly the point of the classroom where i knew the teacher's eyes would never rest. sitting at the back was foolish, as was the second and third rows, and the centre columns.

there you go, knowing the difference between rows and columns was the outcome, which is useful in typesetting academic tables. so not all school maths was lost on me.

we have experimented with the BOOBIES. the children are unconvinced while the parents roll about sniggering. this is what is wrong with the youth of today. they have too many amusements at their disposal.

A level maths big mama! that is awe inspiring. but it is true that this advanced learning does not always translate very well. I have A level geography. i use it for getting myself out of fields by complex geological and meteorological observation. while the children point to the broken footpath sign and follow that.

Degree level! I heed your advice, Sam. I shall check out the Miquon.