Saturday, January 07, 2012

Naming the parts of math...

There is long tradition of building that did not require math in the formal sense of naming its parts. In fact a small number of boat builders today carry forth that tradition.

By the rack of the eye... Means to be guided solely by the eye without line or rule. --judgement by eye of accuracy, alignment, length, etc. (rather than by the use of a ruler or other instrument). Norse in origin, Usually heard only in the dialect expression " t'rack o' t'ee" (" the rack of the eye"). cf Swedish rak (straight) and Norwegian rak (direct, straight, erect).

The rack of the eye building method was not devoid of math, but took advantage of the natural living math capacity inherent in the human body and its experience in observing physical reality through building real things. Two points have always formed a straight (rak) line, whether named as a line or not. Three points in space have always formed a plane. Four points on that same plane have always formed a square or a rectangle, parallelogram, rhombus, or trapezoid... Unless you are in the UK and have been trained to call a trapezoid a trapezium, which brings to mind one of the funny things about math. These concepts exist independent of their being named, and can be used by the "rack of the eye" in that they are fundamental principles in the structure of the universe, and a trapezium by any other name still contains 360 degrees of angles and is formed by four points on a single plane. Put those points on two planes and you warp suddenly into 3 D.

In schools, the whole idea of math is very much about testing to see whether a student can name and understand the words of math, like those above. And to those words you can add triangles, isosceles , equilateral, scalene, and add the concepts, right, obtuse, and acute, and then so very many more. I think you can see how much of math as it is taught is related to man's verbal capacity rather than his productive one. And I think that you can see that for some students math can become just one more bit of dry abstract schooling rather than an experience to get ones arms around and hands dirty in the making of real things. But teach a pupil to understand math from this other angle and he or she will become engaged in the exploration of the universe. What is there about that, that educators just can't get their hands on? Oh, yes, I remember. They forgot we have hands.

Tarrah was shocked on that day when she realized for the first time that we were doing math in the Clear Spring work shop. And I am reminded of my sister Ann. She and my mother were told by her 10th grade teacher that she had no mind for math and could never be expected to do well. And yet, Ann became a designer of counter-change smocking techniques and had her own designer series with McCalls featuring counter-change smocked children's dress patterns that she designed herself. Only a pedant would think that was not demonstrating success in math.

And in the meantime, on the 10th anniversary of The No Child Left Behind Act, we seem to have left too many stranded in the teach to the test schooling that the NCLB legislation imposed. Read about it HERE.

Photo above by JD.

I have been working on a post about how to bend a nail. Yes, it involves math. Check back tomorrow for that.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous7:59 AM

    Very good points!

  2. Doug, the NC Maritime Museum (photo) is an amazing place. One can take classes there on boat carpentry, oar making, boat building, etc. I took a weekend class in contemporary boat carpentry where we learned strip planking, stitch and glue, and a load of other things. The best part was having the full run of the shop! They have every power tool in the book and a room full of every hand tool one can imagine---and many multiple copies of each. It is a woodworker's paradise!!!! and there were only six of us in the class. Building a wooden boat is at the top of my retirement list :)))

  3. JD, the Bevins skiff would be a good one to build with the grandchildren.

    It troubles me that in current thinking wood shop has to earn its pay by measurable changes in math scores. Isn't that a sad state of affairs? Whereas, building a wooden boat should be reward enough as soon as it touches water.

  4. Doug, we have faced the same issue for years in makes you smarter, it teaches discipline, etc., etc. nobody wants to accept it for what it is at face value. Music makes your life more meaningful...we don't need other reasons!!!!

  5. JD, it is the same with the arts. Standardized testing has distorted the whole field of education. Nothing has value but that which can be most easily measured.

  6. Yes, we are in DEEP trouble...

  7. Anonymous7:25 AM

    A few years ago I was invited to the local school to speak to students at career week. I am a professional woodworker/carpenter. I brought a speed square, a framing square, a string line, and a chair. I showed them howeach of the tools was used, and how they are related to math. I asked a show of hands how many ever thought"When am I ever gonna use this?" while sitting through math class. All of them raised their hands!!! I proceeded to shot them how to make a curve, figure out to build a roof, and how NOT to destroy their grandma"s chair by tipping back. Then I showed them the applications such as building a half pipe in the skate board park, etc. The lights went on in their attics by the look in their eyes! Amazing! And yet teachers fail to recognize the disconnect between the chalkboard, learning, and the physical world. Such a shame...

  8. Too often, teachers, themselves having had so little to do with practical applications don't see how to help students make the necessary aha connections. That is why early educators believed that schools should be workshops humming with real work. Theory should never wander far from application. And if that application requires the hands, the students will be interested instead of watching the clock waiting for class to be dismissed. But we have created an educational establishment that is dumb from the neck down.