Thursday, 8 March 2012

Move it!

Meeting my son and his best friend from school, I asked how their day had been. Expecting the usual pre-teen, 10 year old mumbles, I was taken-aback by their: “Really good,........ maths was great”. Music to my ears  - but what wonderful, inspiring, creative lesson had their teacher crafted?
Measuring! Measuring what? Anything, everything, all didn’t matter. The point was they were up, out of their seats, trying things out, experimenting, making decisions, in control.
This is not rocket science: Kids just love to move around, be hands on and try things out for themselves. This is a classic case of kinaesthetic learning.
Kinaesthetic learning sounds complicated but it simly means learning through touch and movement. Children, especially of primary age, love to move around: This will be of no surprise to anyone who has spent any amount of time with young children. But most children do also learn best when they are allowed to be active!
Talking to children at length can be so counter productive. It is however a very tempting tactic - because children are in the seats, quiet and the teacher can be comfortably in control. Allowing children to move is more unsettling, more noisy and more risky. But the rewards can be great: the learning so much richer, deeper and engaging; the pupils more curious, interested and motivated. For maths to become a more joyful experience for many, the kinaesthetic approach is a must.
Boys in particular benefit from kinaesthetic learning. Generally as children get older fewer and fewer opportunities for kinaesthetic learning are offered. This can be a problem, particularly for boys. So if you want to kickstart a group of sluggish boys, consider upping the kinaesthetic content.
Linking together mathematical concepts, joining up the dots and seeing the big picture can also be enlightening.
I was blown away by an inspirational talk by Christopher Lloyd (author of ‘The What On Earth Wallbook’). He summed up the whole history of the earth, all 13.7 billion years of it, in just under one hour. Simply amazing. I learnt (and re-learnt things that I had once known but long since forgotten) stuff which all made so much more sense when fitted together and joined up.
I used this idea - of zooming out and seeing a big picture as opposed to zooming in and focusing on one particular concept - when working with a group of forty pupils on an intensive revision maths residential. Linking together .... (big breath)...... number bonds with adding and subtracting (and sum and difference) with summing numbers to 180 with angles in a triangle with different types of triangles with different types of polygons with interior and exterior angles of a polygon with the area of a rectangle with factor pairs (making up the dimensions of rectangle) and multiples with the area of a triangle with BODMAS with square numbers and cube numbers and indices with standard form and very big numbers such as a billion, and so on,....... all in one session. Interjected with some loud music and some snappy YouTube clips - it really worked!! 
But what is a billion anyway? After all we hear a lot about the billions and billions of debt in the Euro-zone. 
A billion used to be a million lots of a million and look like this:
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
and this is still the case in large parts of Europe.
In the United States however, a billion is a thousand lots of a million and looks like this:
1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
(and in fact the United States’ trillion is the same as a European billion!!)
So whose billion are we (and our media) using??
Perhaps we best ask the movers and shakers - the politicians. (But I have a sneaky feeling that many wouldn’t have a clue!)

Naomi Sani

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