Friday, April 02, 2010

A note about algebra, I guess

Sometimes things happen around here that make me pause and wonder. One of my biggest objections to institutional school is the arbitrary way decisions are made regarding what is to be "learned" (is it really learned, or just taught?) and when. As I have said, about 1.67 million times, I think competence, confidence and resilience are the most important attributes for children (everyone, really) and factual knowledge can be acquired AS NEEDED. That means that some people would know a ton about math or biology or Shakespeare because they need/want it, some would not. Anyway, back to the story . . .

Evie and two friends are planning a fashion show to accompany the next girls supper club (recently re-named "Las Tres Chicas, Cocinando--but that is a real mouthful). Evie has been spending a lot of time making lists, taking measurements and calculating various aspects of the timing of dinner and the show. The other night, while sitting in the laundry basket, she says, "I have figured out the order of who needs to walk first and at what rate." "Hmm-uhm--mnsn," I answer with my mouth full of toothpaste. "Well, if x equals Margaret and y equals Isabella and I'm z . . ." and she proceeds to lay it all out. Huh!?! I can't say I remember ANYTHING about my algebra class in high school and solving for one variable is about all I have ever needed.

I am curious where Evie got the concept of solving for an unknown, I am even more curious how she plugged in the numbers and got, to her, a satisfying and logical answer. It really is fascinating to watch a mind unfold, clearly touched by a thousand ideas and spontaneous creating its own. I always thought certain mathematical operations had to be explicitly learned/taught/demonstrated because there was a real order to how it worked--now I am not so sure. And so, I wonder--in all senses of the word.

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