Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Math isn't "hard." It's a chance to learn how to think.

One nice thing about the Feldenkrais way, is that it's a way. A way of looking at and thinking about "problems," which is another way of saying, "things we don't know how to do yet."

(As an aside: the state of "Not Knowing," is the state of being Here and Now, since in the Now, each moment is clear and here and complete and the next moment we don't know because we aren't getting ahead of ourselves.)

Okay, fine, now what about math?

Last summer I was staying with my sister, who tutors grade school kids in schoolwork "problems," and her husband, Jack, who tutors high school kids in math.

I was back East with them in New Jersey, since I was taking the Anat Baniel Mastery Training for working with Special Needs Children. (See, for your own delight: Anat on Children). And in Anat's training, this idea of "problems" as opportunities for variation, and discovering the essential, and finding new possibilities in function and success, was very much a part of our work.

So my brother-in-law came up with a client who was having all sorts of "problems" with the idea of percentages. My training with Anat inspired this approach: let's get off of the Right Answer thing and start to think about the meaning of what we are doing.

So, instead of being committed to 30% of 80 being 24, I was suggesting to Jack that he get across the idea that a percentage is a part of the whole, or is a relationship to one hundred, and so go about it like this: is 30% of 80 going to be more or less than 80?

And then, getting advanced, is 120% of 80 going to be more or less than 80?

Once the student understood this, the problems where just working out the details.

Same with smaller kids and addition, subtraction and so on.
Is 3+8 going to be bigger or smaller than 3? Bigger or smaller than 8?

Is 12-7 going to be bigger or smaller than 12?

Is 55 times 3 going to be bigger smaller than 3?

Is 3 times 55 going to be bigger or smaller than 55?

..... The game of showing that they are the same, (3 times 5) being the same amount as (5 times 3) calls for a bunch of marbles or oranges, I imagine......)

And to finish things off, is 44 divided by 4 going to be bigger or smaller than 44? Is it going to be around 40? Around 30? Around 20? Around 10?

This idea of approximating things, and getting a rough answer I think calls on deeper and more visceral parts of our mind. I've heard that aborigines, while they aren't that fond of knowing that there are 238 birds flying by, can look at a flock of birds and have a pretty clear idea that it's somewhere in the 220 to 250 range.

And, for our own use as grown ups?

Try this with your check book: just round everything to the nearest ten dollars. Spend 212.35 and subtract 210. If you spend 17.22, subtract 20. If you put in 336, add 340. It all works out pretty close and makes it easy to keep up with it all.

And the underlying concept: freeing the kids and our own minds from this slavery to the Right Answer and going for a deeper and clearer understanding of what these various functions (adding, doing a percentage, dividing, and so on) are all about.

Interestingly enough, Moshe Feldenkrais got his huge results by looking at human beings as totalities and working on improving functions like walking, or coming up to sit from lying, or rolling over, or bending sideways.

Improving them where? In the brain and total understanding / organization of the whole person.

Fancy that.

And fun, too.

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