Math Again!


I'm one of those (almost) unschoolers that don't know if I'll ever feel totally comfortable not making them do math! Please someone tell me I'm not the only one!



I used to worry about math a bit, too. Not to the extent that I bought text books or curriculum, but I do have DVDs (Standard Deviants), computer games (Math Blaster, Zoombinis, etc.) and I once made sure they had some sort of math experience for at least five minutes every day (haven't even done that since joining this list, though, and wasn't consistent even before :).

Anyway, one of the reasons I worried about math at all was that my oldest DS has his heart set on being an engineer, since he was in second grade. That, at least in our time, is not a career you can "unschool" into. This is the ds who chose to do the K-12 Online Academy this year as a transition to regular public high school next year (accckkk :)

When he took the online assessments for this K-12 curriculum (some of you may remember my angst :) he tested at the seventh grade level for their curriculum (he is eighth grade by age). Even though I wasn't convinced, I enrolled him as an eighth grader but using the seventh grade curriculum. It soon became apparent that their "assessments" were the problem, not his grade level. He's been mostly bored all year.

When he took the state standardized test (some of you remember the obvious mistakes and unbelievable errors in that test, gggrrrrr!), he scored at the 97th percentile in reading, the 95th percentile in math. This means, in educationese, that he scored better than 95% of the students all over the state who spent all year "preparing" in public school! He only spent about an hour checking a website with "sample" questions so he could get an idea what a standardized test was like (he'd never taken one before).

I also learned, recently, that the separate number score (separate from the percentile) means what grade level the questions he answered correctly correspond with. His number corresponds with 10th or 11th grade, not 7th!

Then, just a few weeks ago, we got the results from a "non-standardized" math test that our state also gives. It is a fully written exam, evaluated by real people, math teachers, who look for understanding expressed through the written "process" of solving a math problem (or several problems, actually).

I was pretty impressed by this test. Much more likely to yield valid results, and much more fair. A child may get the incorrect answer to the problem, but still get points for showing they understood how to solve it. In other words, if they "show their work" (remember that phrase from 9th grade algebra?), they will get points for using the correct thought processes to find the answer, even if they miscalculate.

On the other hand, if a child just gets the "right" answer, but can't show HOW they got it, they lose points (this is what would have happened to me, I could sometimes come up with the "right" answer, but didn't know HOW).

Anyway, Will's teacher (online, we hardly ever see her except on field trips) called me and told me that she had received Will's score on this particular test. She said he got a perfect score. She said she'd never seen one before! She said she'd seen quite a few near-perfect scores, but never a perfect one.

Here's the clincher, though, and my point after all this rambling:

She said, most kids don't do as well on that test, because they aren't taught to THINK like that.

Curriculum, drills, standardized teaching, it's questionable whether that even teaches kids the way to choose correct answers, but it's clear it does NOT teach them to THINK.

People outside our small group of thinkers do not believe this, but LEARNING, true and useful, comes NATURALLY. All curriculum does is get in the way. It has to be purged for real learning to take place, and that sometimes never happens.

Anyway, I thought you might gain confidence from this experience, since it is a direct example of how unschooling translates into "educationese" in the "real" world of "school" (what a misnomer :)

~Cheryl-who wants to assure Stephanie that I used the words "real" and "school" with sarcasm, not belief
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This might sound weird, but math was the easiest thing for me to let go. The reason why is math is all around us, every day. Telling time, counting days on a calendar, reading music (even just making music without reading it), handling money, dividing "whatever" between siblings, creating something that needs balance/strength (even Legos), doubling a recipe--it's all math. And it's real, not some stupid problem starting, "If a train leaves Middleton at 12 o'clock...." It's stuff that matters.

Looking back over my day yesterday, it was full of math for the kids. Starting with Diana informing me it was now seven days until her birthday and that she did *not* need seven spankings or I would get 41 from her. (Don't start the spanking thing--it was a joke.) Linnea asking how far we would go if we drove another 15 minutes. The kids all figuring out how much we could all spend on dinner if we had $20 total. Linnea figuring out how much I owed her from last week when I borrowed money shopping, subtracting from the total amount.

They have it down with fractions, even if they don't know it. "You had your turn with the x-box! I get my turn after Tabitha and she had half an hour!" Yes, kids can equally divide a single cookie 5 ways because the cookie means something to them. Who cares about some boring text book?

Last night during dinner (at Wendy's) I brought up a radio spot I heard on NPR concerning stars. (Cristina is my astronomy buff.) We had a lively discussion about stars and how things like black holes are proven (or even imagined) using only math. All of this over french fries. Of course, it took a dive when someone started reciting lines from "StarWars Underpants" and then "Harry Potter Underpants" (for those not in the know, key lines from the movies have the word "underpants" inserted where another word used to be, example: The Sorting Underpants). Yes, it was a very good 5 minute math discussion.

Did I have a point here? Hmm. Oh, that math would be the last thing I would want in a text book. Real math is alive and used every day. Anything the kids want to learn is available. Anything they need to know is there. And there is no magic window of time about to slam shut when they "need" to learn something.

PS I'm not yelling.

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I was reading what folks were saying about math and thought I would share my opinion.

Math has become the paragon of the educational system, the one unassailable "reason" for schools and forced learning to continue. People think that if they wave "math" in the faces of unschoolers, like myself, that our ideas on natural learning will crumble in the face of it's undeniable necessity. WRONG!

Quantity is a concrete, 2 + 2 will always equal 4 but it is this very thing which makes "mathematics", the science of formulas, STILL a choice. Mathematics is what was invented by man to find the sum of a unknown quantity, the quantity always existed, it was the human who needed a formula to find the thing.

We now have calculators which, accept it or not, essentially make the knowledge of formulas obsolete. I can hear the gasps! There are many skills which people once had to know in order to survive, skills we no longer know. We could have clung to them and forced many a child to learn them because they were transformed into a virtue but we have allowed most of them to slip away. I say "Good riddance." I don't want to waste years of my life learning how to build a barn, build and/or repair a wagon wheel or plow a field.

Any skill, no matter how outdated, can be learned if it is desirable or even needed by the individual. To teach them, out of tradition or a phantom "need" is what kills a person's love for learning. Mathematics was essential for most of history, there were no calculators to do the work, thus having a quick skill the formulas was highly useful.

Lanora knows how to count money, knows how much change she should get, knows how to halve or double a recipe, etc. She can do basic mathematics but isn't interested in Algebra, Geometry and it's ilk. She grew uneasy at one point, thinking that "mathematics" was like history or science, that there was information out there that she was missing. When I explained that it was about learning formulas used to find answers she was relieved. She has a calculator, thank you.

An adult asked her, "What about Math?" (we've never heard that one before) She responded with, "That is what calculators are for." Their thoughtful (smirk) response was, "What if there were no calculators, what if all the computers stopped working or we had no electricity?!" Without missing a beat (or a bit of logic) she said, "I think we would have much more to worry about than how much 'math' we know, don't you?"

Lanora knows that if she wants to pursue a career she will encounter math, she wisely figures that she can just learn it when the time comes. She'll memorize all of their little formulas, show that she can use them and pass the required tests, why waste her life, time and passion for learning until it's necessary?

The most important thing for a child to learn is that learning is like breathing, it can't be avoided or halted. A person's passion and natural need/desire/love for learning can be harmed, however, and shoving learning down their throats, making it UNnatural and boring is the best way to do so.


top of page my pre-unschooling days I used to tell my oldest daughter (my poor experimental child) that she would pay for not working on math when she went to college...then we made the shift to wasn't a sudden shift so I started easing up on math before giving up on all curriculum. Still....I kept those thoughts in my head instead of saying them but let the math go. She has not done formal text-book math beyond the 6th grade level. At 16 she wanted to go to community college so we filled out the paperwork and she took the placement tests. We were both very prepared for her math scores to be very low and for her to have to start in the lowest remedial math class...and I was all proudly psyched to never utter the words "I told you so". When she got the results...much to my surprise....she tested in between intro to algebra and algebra. She chose to take the intro class just in case...and she did just fine. She ended up with a 3.0. And very glad she never wasted time doing "highschool" math at home since she was still ahead of many of the kids in the class who were highschool graduates. And she never once told me "I told you so"!!!


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Some great Math Links:

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