Unschooling Math – again

The other day one of my friends told me that she would have to be very firm and persuasive regarding Math if the supervisor (from the local public school) ever asked her about it: Her boys are not interested at all, she said.

I was surprised because her boys are very intelligent and play loads of computer games, most of which are logic based. So I asked her if they knew basic math – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Her answer was yes, but they didn’t know the multiplication tables or anything, and she though a supervisor might have problem with this, as her boys has no interest in learning this.

See my son is in many ways the same – I’ve tried to introduce math for him, like Kahn Academy, and he is generally not interested … Yet in my eyes he is brilliant at math. How is that? Well I know he asks me questions and I can tell that they develop over time – that is how a lot of unschooling works here – not by me asking him questions but by him asking me questions. Sometimes he goes back to old questions, but generally he has moved forward. So when he was 4 years old the questions would have been: What is 1+1,1+2,1+3 – now it’s more like 2+2,4+4,8+8,16+16,32+32,64+64,128+128 or 3.490.120+2.340 – and he get’s a kick out of seeing if I can do stuff with bigger and bigger numbers and keep them all in my head. He does the same with multiplication and division – “Mom what is 3.000.027*3 -2.045*2?”

But here is the really cool deal: he learns more math playing computer games, than any other activity he does. And that is the reason I don’t believe that my friends sons don’t get math – they just don’t know that they are using it. The most explicit experienc I have in this realm is “Plants vs. Zombies”, which he and I have played a lot – at first he could be like “yes that plants costs 300 sun and I only have 125 so I need to collect 175 more” (he would be like “mom what’s that number 75 called?). Next he started saying stuff like “well that plant is 125, so if I want three then I need 375 sun (still having trouble with 75 which is hard in Danish). Or 5 double sun-flowers equals 2-4-6-8-10 normal sunflowers. Next thing is if one sun equals 25 sun points and one sunflower costs 50 then I need 10 suns to buy 5 sunflowers. He does all of this in his head, and no one has taught him this – but he learned from experience. All kids who play computer games do this – because if they cannot predict how and when to power up, or level up – the motivation for playing disappear.

One thing I have been very good at strewing in my sons direction is logic games – both board games, card games and computer games. The reason is that training logic trains you in the kind of thinking that you need to solve complex math problems. I have never forced any of this, there is no need, playing “Perry the Platterpus” or “Where’s my water?” Soduko, Set or other logic games is something we
Both love and love to share. I actually just have to put it somewhere were he sees it or ask him if he wants to play and he is engaged. My primary reason for doing this is off course our shrewd love for it, but I was convinced that I was on the right path do this saw a High School Teacjer give this talk on TED: Why Math Instruction Is Unnecessary ).

I’m going to go even further – and claim that even the basic math instruction is unnecessary provided the kids have real life possibilities to explore, and maybe a parent/teacher next to them to help explain it. See addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, along with basic basic fractions and percentages is something you meet in real life and learning at your own pace – when it makes sense, will make instruction and learning faster and easier than you would ever imagine. In “dumbing us Down” John Taylor Gatto says that it can be learned – all the math they teach in school – in about 100 hours, and less if you just wait until the child is ready – because they will have learned most of it intrinsically on their own.

I finish off with a story about my daughter. She just turned 5, and she still can’t name the numbers up to ten (sometimes she can and sometimes she can’t). Yet she understands basic addition and multiplication. See when you don’t know the names of all the numbers up to ten, but need to use them – and you do when you are five – you come up with creative ways of talking about them in terms you do know: 7 is “four and three”, 8 is “two fours”, 10 is “two fives”.

Playing LEGOs, making a cake, calculating how many weeks it will take to save up to the toy you want, drawing, building tree houses etc etc is all you need to learn basic math. And the rest is unnecessary for 99% of the population.


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