When old teapots are more interesting than ancient battles
“Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!’”
Lewis Carroll, Alice Through the Looking Glass
To accept popular education theories often requires belief in impossible things. For instance, the ‘expanding horizons’ view of social studies, on which the HASS strand of the Australian Curriculum is based, requires us to believe that young children cannot possibly be interested in tales of ancient peoples and battles and that, instead, a developmentally appropriate curriculum would involve a project about an old object from the home such as teapot or something. That’s interesting for little kids.
This is clearly an impossible thing to believe for anyone who has ever met a real human child. And yet educationalists insist on believing six such impossible things before breakfast.
Another example is the teaching of mathematics. Forget the abstract or beautiful. Forget the sense of accomplishment when, with skillful teaching, you are able to overcome a challenge. The only aspects of the entire subject that motivate young people to learn mathematics are mundane applications, such as figuring out change at the supermarket (who does this now?) and working out how much concrete to pour to fill up a hole in the road. That’s motivating.
David Perkins, writing in his 2014 book, Future Wise, suggests that, “Project-based learning in mathematics or science, which, for instance, might ask students to model traffic flow in their neighborhood or predict water needs in their community over the next twenty years,” represents, “reasonably tractable content.”
Because teenagers are well-known for their fascination with traffic flow.
So, I’ve decided to call this particular branch of impossible thought, ‘mundanisation’. You know it when you see it and now you have a name for it.
Please feel free to post your examples.
Getting kids to design their ideal school floor plan using rectangles and triangles. Year 7, usually takes a week, and in the end each group of four has a poster with about five 2d shapes drawn and labelled. Presumably most kids in Year 7 aspire to design schools.
Odd isn't it there are very popular math books by Ian Stewart (UK version not the Cdn Calculus text author) and I love, The Pleasures of Counting by T.W. Korner that miss the local traffic issues but are full of fables and war stories and other high drama. How is it that curriculum writers can be unaware of what sells for recreational mathematics - that is mathematics people will do just for interest?
How insulated would you have to be to avoid topics that are demonstrably interesting and come up with local traffic is the topic we will use?