Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How NOT to make learning fun

I came across a product the other day that illustrates a point I was trying to make a couple of months ago on the problem I have with claims to "make learning fun."

The purpose of the product was teaching math facts, each of which were illustrated with a cartoon and some brief story and memory aid--like remembering 4x4=16 by thinking of a teenager at last getting his license and being able to drive a 4x4.

Now, I'm not at all in favor of math being boring. Quite the opposite. But this approach reinforces the reason most people find math boring--because it is sucked dry of any real meaning to them. The fact itself is meaningless, so we must make up an irrelevant story to remember it. And then we have to remember the story and the fact, instead of just knowing the fact. The extra effort involved makes my brain hurt.

If you really want to make learning math facts "fun"--or, more importantly, significant and meaningful, you can figure out how many cookies will fit on a sheet if there are four rows of four. You can calculate that if you could run across the yard four times in one minute, you could do it sixteen times in four minutes. You can consider how much you should charge if someone at the yard sale wants to buy four of your old toys for 40 cents apiece. You can illustrate it with math manipulatives and color it in on graph paper and mark it down on your own multiplication chart. Once 4x4=16 means something to you, it's not all that hard to remember. And if you need to be able to come up with it faster, there are lots of games to play to review it that won't require you to remember twice the information. (And that won't cost $70.)

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