To: Jimmie and homeschoolers who are interested in Charlotte Mason "living math,"
I read an interesting blog entry over at Jimmie's Collage entitled "Living Math Dropout." I've thoroughly enjoyed some of Jimmie's past math entries (check out this one on positive and negative numbers) so her revelation surprised me.
But then I started thinking... What is really meant by "living math?" And what does it mean to teach that way? (BTW, I used to think the Charlotte Mason term was "living math," but I've since learned that Mason never used the term in reference to math...she only used the term "living books." The phrase "living math" has actually been copyrighted by a business owner. I'm using it here only because it was the title on the original blog entry.)
According to Ambleside Online, in a Charlotte Mason math education...
"...the ability to reason is emphasized over "working sums", so emphasis is placed on story problems and working with numbers that are within the child's comprehension, therefore, a manipulative-based instruction is desirable."Hey! I do that!!!
But, but...I use a curriculum. In the homeschool "living math" (Charlotte Mason) movement, it seems like good math teaching is often defined by the lack of curriculum. Yes, real books. Yes, real games. Yes, "real life" situtations. But no curriculum. Which, I suppose, makes me a "living math dropout." Or does it?
Most homeschooling parents were taught math with textbooks. Algorithms. Drill and kill. Memorization. It made a lot of us math phobic. (See Math an American Phobia--great read!--by Marilyn Burns. I can certainly relate.)
But here's the thing...while there are many curricula that still teach the "old way" (the way we were taught...I guess that makes us old?? ;) ) there are some that teach completely different, doing just as Mason advocated, emphasizing reasoning, problem solving and manipulative based instruction.
I first learned that there was an alternative when I landed a teaching job in a third grade classroom. As a new third grade teacher I was "tutored" through the math curriculum with a district math specialist who came into my room each week and walked me through the upcoming week's math lessons. We used manipulatives, exploring multiple ways to solve problems. I can't begin to tell you how many times she said, "Can you show me another way to solve that problem??" This was TERRIFYING for me in the beginning! There is more than ONE way to solve a problem???
You've got to be KIDDING ME?!?!?!!!!!
The emphasis was no longer on memorizing algorithms or drill and kill, but on mathematical thinking and problem solving (and not the problem solving that sounds like "when a train leaves Chicago at 55 mph" either!) I learned to use math strategies, read real math books, and use real activities to explore mathematical concepts. Real, "living" math...in the context of a published curriculum!
When I first began homeschooling ten years ago, one of my first concerns was math. As I mentioned, I've certainly experienced moments of math phobia in my past, so I didn't want to make the wrong choice in picking a curriculum. We tried several. But nothing reached the level of engagement that I'd had with my third graders. So I searched. And found a very worthy curriculum. I do intersperse other games and living books just because I love to find and use them, but not because a great, non-textbook, "living" curriculum isn't available.
I'm not sure I know what homeschoolers mean when they say they exclusively do "living math." (And, again, I'm talking about the Charlotte Mason concept in reference to Jimmie's blog post, not the trademarked term.) I think it would be very hard to ONLY use real books, games, and experiences...making everything up yourself. Very hard. I admire those who appear to do it well.
Perhaps another "living math" dropout. Who uses "living" curriculum!
I may be kidding myself. But I really think Charlotte Mason would approve! :)