The video “Surprises in Mind” explores some of the latest discoveries on how the brain learns math, and how this mathematical ability is expressed in art, architecture, and music. This study took place over 12 years, following students through grades 1-12. The study demonstrated how the brain capitalized on its unique natural ability to use math. The study was conducted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. This research is the basis for my philosophy on how children learn and how adults can support that.
Early learning in mathematics begins in the innate ability of children to search for patterns in the world around them. Mathematics is about defining the patterns in life. Children have a natural ability and desire to make sense of their world. They do this through observation and experimentation that begins in infancy. Mathematics helps humans to organize their world in such a way that complex and seemingly abstract ideas can be expressed and communicated. Children have the natural tendency to look for patterns and then repeat them. This is the key to human nature. The teacher is there to help support this innate ability and the ability to use it in increasingly complex ways.
The infant begins mathematic learning very early on. In the beginning, they begin learning patterns. Once learned, it is difficult to change these patterns, but one mastered correctly, the children will expand these ideas naturally to the next step. There is a stigma surrounding mathematics that equates a perception that mathematics is difficult. However, it does not have to be that way. When children are taught in an environment that supports the idea that mathematics is fun, they thrive and have the desire to explore and learn more. Mathematics can be taught in a fun social environment that supports a love of math and the children’s natural curiosity. The learning context has a significant impact on the success of the learner.
When presented with a complex problem, the first thing that learners at any grade level do is to look for a pattern. Collaborative learning helps to give the child a chance to explore how others would approach a similar problem, perhaps to be able to see a pattern that they did not see before. This increases their knowledge and ability to see similar patterns in the future. It all begins with seeing simple patterns as a child. Activities that are active and hands on help children to visualize and communicate their ideas.
Activities that involve order are the key to mastering higher mathematics skills. Activities that may appear to be play might actually be the most effective learning tools. Games that require taking turns, stacking blocks, and shape sorters form the basic pattern building skills that are used in higher mathematics functions such as algebra, geometry, and calculus. Using a scaffolding approach to learning is a way to use the child’s natural tendencies and abilities as an advantage in teaching mathematics, or any subject. Modeling patterns takes advantage of the child’s natural tendency to imitate others.
The most effective learning environment for learning mathematics skills and then transferring them to other settings and subjects is best accomplished by understanding the child’s basic instincts and natural tendencies. An environment that presents the concepts in a fun social context will help to foster a life-long love of mathematics. This will follow the child for the rest of their life. The education field must realize that the purpose of learning mathematics is not to pound the multiplication tables into the children’s heads by force, but to help them gain a deeper understanding of the patterns the form the multiplication tables. This will give them tools that they can apply to other situations in life, not just during their school years, but throughout life. This idea forms the crux of my philosophy in mathematics education.
- “Surprises in Mind” (n.d.). Video. Retrieved December 1, 2014 from learner.org/resources/series130.html?pop=yes&pid=1460