Thursday, September 22, 2011

What number am I thinking of? Part III

Over the past few days we've been investigating the shape of our numerals.

I'm marveling at our visual ability to identify an arbitrary shape and relate it to a quantity of items. This is no trivial challenge - it's a foundational skill that kids must develop in order to understand mathematics.

Excel Math assists students in drawing (writing) numerals in Kindergarten and First Grade. We believe that physically creating the shapes (playing with counting blocks, etc.) is critical in developing a deep understanding of mathematics. There is a hand-eye-brain coordination/connection that is reinforced by actual physical activity of creating the numerals in an answer (as opposed to clicking on the correct answer on the screen).

Here's a typical 3rd grader's Lesson Sheet ... [click the image to enlarge]

PERSONAL FONTS
Handwriting and penmanship are little-valued today, so many teachers don't push too hard for neatness and precision in making numerals. Is it important in life? No doubt you have your own opinion on the importance of this skill.

I think I have average-quality handwriting. Here's my own personal font, written quickly on a notepad and captured with my iPhone. Not exactly a straight and level baseline, is it?

Here are the personal fonts of four other Excel Math employees. One woman, three men. One leftie, three right-handed. I put the pad down in front of each and asked them to write 0 through 9.

What can we discern by comparing these 5 sets of numerals?
• Nobody did a "handwriting" style 2 with loops.
• Only one person made a closed top on the 4. Only two had the cross-bar actually cross the upright
• Several did the top of the 5 as a separate stroke, the rest made an s-like shape.
• Three of the 6s are reclining, with the bowl up and to the right, not under the top
• Two people crossed the 7's, in European style.
• The 8 is made in one stroke by a couple people, and others created two separate loops.
They all drift up a bit to the right. Most start out widely spaced at the left, then get more crowded as the writers realized their 9 might fall off the right edge of the notepad...

HANDWRITTEN FONTS
I found an interesting website that provides a selection of handwritten fonts that you can install on your computer. Here is a selection of the numerals from these fonts:

You see the same sort of variations in these "professional" handwritten fonts that you do in our numerals written by our company employees, even though these are very carefully done.

Maybe I could make some money by setting up my own handwritten font! I'll reinforce my understanding of the numbers, and make a few bucks on the side. Maybe if I do a little practice to get the hang of it ... I'll write numbers ... maybe all the way up to 100!

My hand hurts. I quit.

PS - We use Helvetica on our student Lesson Sheets, and MS Comic Sans Bold for the answers in the Teacher Edition. The rest of the material in the Teacher Edition is in set in ITC Stone Sans. This note is in Courier.