Math–Brave Writer Style!
I know you’re busier than a one-armed paper hanger this time of year, but I just wanted to jot a quick e-mail to you about math (of all things! ha!) I asked you about math at the Brave Writer conference, and you mentioned that this is a common question. People who love Brave Writer wish, wish, wish someone out there was doing the same thing with math. Well, I haven’t exactly found that person or that program, but I discovered a few things that have rocked our world. I thought you might find it of help as you counsel homeschool moms desperate for help in all areas of their curriculum…
So, the biggest thing is this — The Brave Writer principles apply to math! They do!! Everything you teach us can be directly or indirectly applied to the teaching of math (but you probably already know that??) Partnership math totally changed my 12 year old’s feelings about the subject. Never again will I send him off with a scary page full of problems, a heart full of fear, and that dreadful feeling in the pit of his stomach. When he is learning new concepts or wrestling with old ones, I am there cheering him on and helping him think through the process. There are days when he is independent and days when he is not, and I am ok with that.
Also, the principle of taking little bites of the subject has been such an overwhelmingly successful technique. I had a dear therapist tell me, “Don’t require more than 15 minutes of math exercises a day, unless you want your child to hate math!!” This flies in the face of the common practice of lengthy math lessons that generally take an hour or more per day. Like your suggestion of letting kids write on Post-It notes, there is something powerful about knowing you can stop when the timer goes off & even if it’s hard, it won’t last long!!
Most importantly, I learned what you try so hard to teach through Brave Writer — That writing (and math!) cannot be boiled down to an exact science, a list of do’s and don’ts. If I want my children to love any academic pursuit, I’ve learned that they must have an opportunity to embrace it as an art and not just a science. I no longer follow the traditional “march through the textbook” approach to math. I can’t imagine teaching any other subject that way, so I decided to stop doing that with math. In the same way that you recommend copy work as a foundational practice for learning good writing, we still do practice problems multiple times a week. But that is simply the beginning!! Playing around with problem solving (i.e. math Olympiad style problems) has opened a door to creativity in math that I never would have imagined.
This video from Numberphile explains it best. The mathematician says that so many adults claim that they hated math in school, but what they really hated was what he calls “painting the fence.” The boring routine of memorizing and applying algorithms has historically encompassed the vast majority of math instruction and subsequently sucked the joy out of the subject (as does the scientific approach to teaching writing!). To think that math is so much bigger than that completely blows my mind!!
Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for motivating me to rethink what was happening in my approach to math. The retreat in Cincinnati truly was life-changing for me, for all of us. I walked out of there knowing my approach to math instruction was wrecking my kids, but I didn’t leave empty handed! You gave me the tools I needed to write a different ending to our math story, and I’m so grateful for that. I just want other parents to know that Brave Writer is a lifestyle that can revolutionize any aspect of their homeschool. So the next time you get that “Is there such as thing as Brave Math-er?” question, I hope you’ll confidently tell them that almost every philosophy and method you promote in Brave Writer can be applied to teaching math. It’s just that good.
Image by Bart Everson (cc cropped, text added)