An article by Stephen Beschloss that appeared on AzCentral.com discusses a subject that is near and dear to my heart and my professional philosophy. Titled “Killing creativity in our kids, just when we need it”. 1) Beschloss opines that in our rush to “catch-up” we may be ignoring the most important product of education.
He tells the story of ninth grade students who spent their summer making “Rube Goldberg” machines. For those of you too young to recognize this reference let me just say that the basic idea is to create a complex machine that does a simple task. The students incorporated many skills to achieve the goal of a successful machine and it takes imagination and creativity.
I know about imagination.
My oldest grandson was visiting this afternoon. He is in first grade and he had brought one of his math papers with him. It was a probability activity where you roll two dice, combine the numbers and record the results.
His paper had one 2, three 4s, four 5s, four 6s, five 7s, three 8s, three 9s, two 10s and ten 12s. Ten 12s? Yeah, that’s what I said, “You rolled ten 12s out of 35 rolls?” “Yep,” he said, “me and my partner Max rolled ten 12s with Tigger’s help.” “Tigger?” I asked. “Yeah Max’s Tigger helped us get 12s.”
Except for the twelve column his paper was a perfectly good probability curve, 7 the most commonly rolled number had come up the most while 2, which would normally join along with 12 as the least common, had the fewest occurrences. But they rolled 10 twelves? Quick, take Tigger to Vegas!
You may be wondering why Tigger didn’t roll all 12s? Well, there were only ten places to record any one of the numbers and usually you stop this activity when you get one column full. So seeing that he had only ten places for twelves, that’s how many they rolled. Makes sense to me.
Then he turned the paper over.
On the other side he had drawn a very intricate scene, which he proceeded to explain to me. Pointing to a huge multi-colored gathering of geometric shapes he said, “That’s Megatron, he’s transforming into a robot.” I indicated a long, many-toothed gray creature looming below Megatron. “Oh that is a megalodon, he’s sixty feet long.” “Isn’t he supposed to have a big dorsal fin?” “Not this one, he’s got a florescent light in his head, it’s blue.”
Then he pointed to a small human figure to one side of the drawing, “That’s Wolverine, he’s being attacked by that dinosaur.” “What kind of dinosaur is it?” “It’s an Apatosaurus with a scorpion’s tale.” ”That explains the red venom dripping from his tail.” “Yeah he’s trying to sting Wolverine.”
I had to ask, “So what does this have to do with your math paper?”
He looked at me as if I had spoken gibberish.
“No Ampa, that’s the other side of the paper,” he turned it back over to the front side as if to prove it to me, “see?”
When I was his age I was in second grade. My birthday was in December so I started kindergarten at 4 and through first and second I struggled mightily but like him I loved math.
Does that surprise you? I loved it for the same reason that my grandson does. Mrs. Fletcher, my teacher kept a big stack of drawing paper in the room and when you finished math you could draw. I drew everyday. I’m not sure that I always finished my math, I remember having trouble finding papers in my desk, but I always went home each day with sheet of 12X18 paper with a colorful panoramic view of various dinosaurs.
That’s why I loved math.
Did I suffer for not finishing my second grade math assignments? You tell me, on my college placement tests I scored in the 96th percentile for math. Had to be the dinosaurs.
Sometimes the rigor must take a back seat to imagination and creativity because isn’t that what we really value the most?