Tuesday, February 16, 2016

a new normal...

It used to be that people would awaken, prepare food, and proceed with some form of work in the real world. Our digital devices have changed all that. They elicit a Pavlovian response. With an alert sound all attention is stripped away from what we were doing and becomes invested in the device. For some, it's a form of slavery. Set the phone on the desk at a meeting and you can tell everyone there that you are too important to give them your undivided attention. Owning the device is assumed to imply status, so all are happy to thence immerse themselves in slavery to  the technology.

At school we have a policy that they are to be kept put away so that student's attention can be kept on their work, but then we have parents who feel that their investment in these expensive devices requires that they be utilized to their fullest extent. My students ask "what iPhone do you have?" and for them having a 6 when mine is but a 4 gives them a leg up except when it comes to doing real things.

Yesterday I worked with students to help them understand fractions. The task was simple. Put a screw in the middle of the end of that guitar neck. But how do you find the middle. "Measuring, perhaps?" But what is one half of 1 3/4 in.? For those who've been practicing doing real things in the real world, fractions can be easy. But even if you used your iPhone to divide 1 3/4 in. into equal parts, would it then place the proper mark for drilling into the wood?

"I hate math. I'm not good at it." my student explained. But math, I assured her, is one of the simple things, where the answers are always the same. If you want to make some sense of the world, math is actually an easier place to start than literature or social studies. Politics is worst. But there is great certainty in knowing that 2 plus 2 will always be four and not 6.735 depending on circumstances. So I first tried the backboard approach to show how you can do simple math to discover that half of 1 3/4 in. is 7/8 in. I could tell immediately that my student did not understand. Nor could she find 7/8 in. on a ruler or tape measure. That led me to explain another way.

Use a tape to measure beyond the length of an object to the nearest easily divided even number. In this case, measuring the width of the guitar neck, 2 inches. Make a mark  on the end of the neck at the one inch mark which is easy to find on the ruler. Then measure from the other side and make a mark at the one inch point. Now you have two marks exactly 1/2 in. apart. Can you measure the center between those marks? It may be easier for some than standing at the blackboard and claiming stupidity as your excuse.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others a mere chance of learning likewise.

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