Posted on November 3, 2009
A New Approach
“If schoolchildren are given the gift of exploration, society will be the beneficiary, both in practical and in theoretical ways, scholars say. “This is the way that mathematics started,” notes MIT’s Seymour Papert. “It started not as this beautiful, pure product of the abstract mind. It started as a way of controlling the water of the Nile, building the pyramids, sailing a ship. And gradually it got richer and richer.”
I didn’t really think much about this quote at the time, but I have been thinking more and more about it. Currently, we are teaching students how to do math from a textbook, from a set of rules that we tell them and that’s how it is. I don’t think too many students are able to discover something on their own when they are taught this way. The closest event would be figuring out how to solve a more complex question.
Those who discovered and created math in the past weren’t told how it works from a textbook. They had to figure it out. They learned it because they wanted to. Because they were curious to understand the world that they lived in. If someone told them right from the start that this is how it is I highly doubt that the discoveries they made would have occurred. Perhaps someone else down the road would have, but not them. They likely wouldn’t have had any desire to explore new things if they were told how everything worked by someone.
I understand that not everyone can master math without help. But, perhaps they can if we simply guide them along, allow them to make their own discovers, possibly by conducting studies and projects where they begin to see things clearer through their own eyes, not the pages of a text. I think that if we started this at the beginning of a students education, they will be much more capable of grasping new concepts later in life and more able to figure things out on their own.
In my eyes, this approach would not only stimulate individual problem solving and thinking skills in students, but boost the need to share information and communicate with their peers. No one can possibly expect a student to discover everything on their own. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a group of students did by constantly building upon each others work. students would learn how to network ideas, how to constructively criticize, and work with one another as a team. They would have to work together to accomplish their goals.
I haven’t really figured out how this would look in a classroom. These are just some thoughts I had once I reread the quote. Does anyone else think this approach has some potential? What are your thoughts?