Monday, October 10, 2022

Material symmetry

Temple Grandin has an article in the Atlantic in which she challenges educators to spend far less time on Algebra and far more time making things.

The essay is adapted from her new book, Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions.

Folks rationalize teaching algebra in that it is considered useful in development of higher thinking skills. The hauntingly abstract equal sign in which formulas on one side are to "equal" formulas on the other need, for which kids see no direct application needs to be preceded by the concrete application of a thing I'm calling "material symmetry. "One side of an object frames its opposite side. Boat building is an example, as are many of the techniques I demonstrate in box making. If you've developed a half model of a boat, it conveys all the information required for shaping both sides with the centerline being the exact location of the equal sign. If you've performed a certain function on one side of a box, it's easy to do the same thing on the other. The same thing applies if you are making a pattern for a dress, or a pair of shoes that fit left and right feet.

Material symmetry exercised through the crafts is useful to children of all ages. It is a building block that's neglected in the teaching of math and is, of course, useful throughout life. The abstraction of Algebra is useful only on being promoted through an educational experience, never to be used again.

Make, fix and create... assist others in living likewise.

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