Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Conceptual Math is Elementary

It's kind of a running joke at work that math isn't my forte - I mean, I'm an English major, I never had a single business or accounting class at West Point (go figure), and selling is fundamentally painting a picture with words. With loads and loads of data behind that picture, but still.

The thing is, I love math. And I've always been really good at math. In fact, I was an A student in math all the way through school, including through my required courses in college, and when I first chose a major, I signed up for math. But I was sadly young and naive, thinking "We all have the same job when we graduate, anyway - why should I work so hard?" so I changed my major to English (via one semester of being a Russian major, but that's a whole other story).

Suffice it to say, I love math. I think math is important. And I'm determined that my kids will love math, too. I mean, you can sell laundry detergent with a math degree. But you can't build a bridge with an English degree.

So to that end, I'm forever encouraging my kids with anything math related. It saddens me that my children have so easily fallen into stereotypes: John (my boy) loves math, Caroline (my girl) "hates" math. Her words. Which I dispute every.single.time. she says them. I believe that parents are kids' best teachers, and I take developing a love of math in each of them very seriously.

Sometimes, though, it's really nice to have help. And for those of us lucky enough to live in a college town, it's incredible to have help in the form of a University professor with a PhD in mathematics.

Last Saturday, my two kids were super lucky - though Caroline might beg to differ - to be a part of the inaugural Fayetteville Math Circle meeting. On the first Saturday of every month, two professors from the Mathematics Department at the University of Arkansas host an hour at the local library for the Fayetteville Math Circle, a program dedicated to showing kids that math can be fun. Perfect! Because Caroline, of course, thinks math is booooooooriiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

Not knowing exactly what to expect but assuming it would be awesome (because it's math), I was just a little bit blown away that their first topic was conceptual number theory. That's right. Number Theory. For elementary school kids. But in a simple, visual way that the kids had no idea it was officially and formally number theory.
That would be Dr. Harriss of the UofA Math Department
Teaching my kids Number Theory
For Free
It's simple, really. Close your eyes and think of numbers. Count them in your head, and then open your eyes.
How many different ways can you make 1? 2? 3? and so on until 17. I wandered in and out - it was 15 kid-free minutes at the library, after all - but I probably should have stayed. It looked like fun.

John is all in with this one - again, stereotypical boy. I hope that this helps Caroline truly learn that math is fun - and colorful, and creative. Because she is already both of those things. She's good at math, too - she just needs a little convincing.

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