Additional Math Pages & Resources

Monday, April 4, 2011

How Many Examples Do You Need?

We learn by example.

Someone shows us how to dive into a pool, we try it; they show us again and eventually we are doing spectacular dives ourselves. I saw this "learn by example" process last week at the Furnace Creek Resort pool, in Death Valley. But instead of beautiful dives, it was a group of young men developing their skills at doing cannonballs into the pool, sending huge geysers of water up and over the decking. The fuss didn't bother me - I was on a mini-vacation...

You might have thought lifeguards would be stopping the festivities - but no. Instead there were dozens of adults encouraging the frivolity. Moms, dads and strangers were giving helpful advice, pointing out flaws in the kids' form, and judging height and volume of splash. Younger kids were squealing every time water flew. It was a community effort and unique in my poolside experience.

One young man was having trouble. Was he resistant to advice? A slow learner? A klutz?

A couple other men and I discussed how we could help, but before we interfered, one of the moms came over. We learned he was new to the USA, having recently come from Iraq. He came to the desert with his sponsors for a taste of home. He had never been in a pool before. He couldn't swim. His English was fine. His muscles were toned. He was friendly. But he was obviously frustrated. Yet not willing to give up.

Wow! Suddenly our attitudes changed. He was no longer a slow learner, but someone whose courage was being applauded. Would you dive into the deep end of a pool if you couldn't swim? Would you jump, grab your knees, lean back and close your eyes, hoping for a mighty splash before you drowned? Would you do it 15-20 times, despite younger, faster learners around you? Despite laughter at your expense?

It occurred to me today that many kids and adults have the same issues with math. We fear diving in. We know we will flounder around, catch heat from our peers, get the answers wrong, get water up our noses - and have to do it again and again before we get it right.

In addition, we might not know English. We might be new to the USA, new to our school, in front of an uncaring peer group; stumbling over non-metric units of measure and local slang.

Excel Math is written for kids like our cannon-balling fellow from Iraq. Lots of chances to learn, lots of chances to succeed. Simple language. Low-stress approach. Friendly products.

Missed the big splash this time? No worries, it will spiral around again and you'll have another chance. Here's a visual summary of our approach. [Click image for a larger version]

You can read more at the Excel Math website.

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