Monday, January 26, 2009

Unschooling Mathematics

I unschool except for Maths. Do you say that?

How do we unschool maths?

Every family approaches this differently. Some do formal Maths regularly. Occasionally. Seasonally. When kids ask. Others see Maths in every day life. Set up maths games and activities. Cooking. Thinking aloud. Use TV shows like Numbers. And others just live and not worry about subject guidelines.

Looking for ideas? Some maths links ~

Developing an Unschooling Non-Curriculum - Math
I thought I'd share a bit of our math non-curriculum with the list.
First, it's a non-curriculum because it doesn't have a timetable attached to it or particular exercises to be completed. We do have specific ideas about what learning math involves, the steps involved in learning math and how math mastery occurs. There is definitely an agenda. I personally feel that numeracy is very important.
So, how do we encourage our children to become numerate, to learn math?
First of all, we act as examples. We use math daily, hourly. We have animated discussions over, for example, the number of tubs of Black Jack we'll need to seal our driveway or how much it costs us to feed electricity to our two computers. We care about the results, we make mistakes, and the mistakes have real-life consequences.
We also use math for fun; often trying to estimate, for example, the number of bananas we eat in a year or how many eggrolls would it take to reach the moon. I'm afraid we often get silly and laugh a lot while we're doing these problems. I hope that doesn't bother any of you who are very serious about math, but there it is.
We let the children stew in their own juices a bit when they're confronted with a problem that requires math. We let them get a bit frustrated. I think that it's important that children learn how to solve problems themselves. It's important for them to realize that they need to use their own brains to figure things out. So, we let them struggle with their problems

Unschoolers and Mathematics
Wild math looks different than domesticated math It looks more like conversations, using numbers to figure out something the child wants to know, video games, allowance, weighing things in the grocery store, finding the best deal among several choices—that is not as a lesson but what you would normally do—board games, figuring out “how long until?” when she asks, budgets, doing a rough estimation of the items in the grocery cart to see if you have enough money, baseball statistics, crafts, origami, wrapping presents ...

Unschooling math
Real life math probably bears the least resemblance to its schoolish counterpart than any other "subject". Because real life math is about discovering how numbers work rather than memorizing formulas to impose on numbers.

Real life math is, as an example, casually encountering percentages in a dozen different contexts and therefore slowly building up an idea of what percentages are and how they're used.

It's similar to the process of how we acquire new words. Usually when we're reading or listening to conversations we don't run and get the dictionary to look up a word we don't know. Generally we can get a good enough idea of its meaning from the context. And the next time we encounter it we add another facet to our understanding and the fuzzy impression of what the word means gets a bit more clear. And so on. The process probably accounts for our often not being able to define a word for someone else that we've not only read and heard dozens of times but even used.

For some reason people think multiplication and division are such difficult subjects that, after algebra, that's the one thing they question under "how will they learn?" But once a child realizes that multiplication is just a fast way to do repeated addition and that division is just a fast way to do repeated subtraction, a great deal of what causes math phobia in adults disappears. Multiplication and division aren't mysterious at all. They're just addition and subtraction short cuts.

One thing I've found helpful is expressing things in a couple of different ways. When we've come across percents, I've said "17% or 17 out of every 100," or "25% is the same as a quarter."

Another thing is solving problems out loud without pencil and paper so they can see how numbers can be manipulated. So for instance to add 138 + 53. (Hmm, a bit tougher than I normally pull off the top of my head! ;-) but kids do pick up on the process when they hear similar processes dozens of times.) 39 is almost 40 and 53 is almost 50. 40+50 is 90. But we added 2 to the 38 so we need to take away 2 from 90. And we subtracted 3 from the 53 so we need to add 3. That brings us up to 91. Then just add 100. So 191.


Mary G said...

Leonie -- this is a great post! Especially coming today when dh and 17yod are home for a "snow day" and the littles never want to do anything sniffing of school when the others are off .... sooooo, we'll unschool math today!

You are a treasure!


molly said...

I am so grateful for this post. MAth always seems to be the clincher for wannbe unschoolers. I have some things to add, I will blog about it and let you know.

Leonie said...

Mary, once we kept a list of all the maths we just DID in our normal week, without trying to do maths - an eye opener...Molly, can't wait to see your blog post - link it here!