I’m going to go out on a limb and do something I have a feeling many travelers with kids avoid, namely, to list as many problems with teaching on the road as possible. To do this, I will also need to list the aspects of an education I want my daughter, Anevay, to receive.
Anevay has performed well on state exams, and has always been at the top of her class. She’s attended a few (yes, a few!) regular New York City Department of Education public schools. Not thrilled with either the curriculum or the speed at which she was being taught (yawn!), I bought workbooks and worked with Anevay while we were eating dinner and over the summer. In fact, I felt that working over the summers with my daughter was going to give her the biggest advantage over the rest of the kids.
Summer may be great for the soul, but often damages a child’s educational growth. In the two and a half months of vacation (give or take), low-income students generally lose around three months of grade-level equivalency, while middle-income students lose about one month. This contributes to the achievement gap so widely talked about in the world of education, and is one of the reasons why many charter schools have longer school years than normal public schools.
So, number one in my travel-teaching priorities: Provide space for year-round education.
Now, I’ve heard that unschooling is apparently amazing- some great traveling single mama/kid duos such as Z and Theodora from Travels with a Nine Year Old are advocates- there certainly are many aspects of it that are appealing, but I’m not so radically off the educational cusp that I wouldn’t want to use data to demonstrate Anevay’s progress. Therefore, giving assessments is still really important (although my kid won’t be taking the damaging State tests, but rather nationally recognized tests that colleges accept).
Yikes. This is where I start to have problems, as I am NOT a math whiz. Today, however, while riding the Amtrak to Rochester, I read the following, which was written by Ralph Abraham (in a chapter of a book about the Ross Model aptly named, ‘The Trouble With Math’), one of the men who helped develop the curriculum for the Ross schools:
“Math programs in schools worldwide- especially in the United States- are stuck in a loop. A faulty program presents the wrong material, out of sequence, without adequate cognitive modes, and sets students up for failure. Young people of all levels of natural ability are convinced that they cannot learn math. These people become parents with math anxiety, and they pass this on to their children; it becomes a family disease.”
Holy crap, I think Abraham is onto something, and I think it makes me feel go-o-o-od. See, I contracted the math disease when I was in 5th grade. I vividly remember my teacher telling me that I was no good at math (because I “wasn’t applying myself”, which, if she had taken a second to listen, was only happening because no one could explain to me why fractions were important). That was the beginning of the end for what could have been a fabulous math-whiz future (Mrs. Nowakowski, wherever you are, I sort of but not really forgive you). It was only when- in my late twenties- I had to take a section in astrophysics at Columbia University that I found that I wasn’t a math failure. Maths just hadn’t been given relevance.
I think now is a good time to stop the cycle. But how?
Ross touted a global, ‘spiral’ curriculum which was created for the private Ross School out in East Hampton. This curriculum is best described by Abraham:
“Since each grade at the Ross School is devoted to an epoch of cultural history, and the epochs and grades follow in chronological sequence, it is possible to integrate all of the traditional subjects in the matrix of relationships from which they originally evolved. For example, when the sixth grade is devoted to the axial age, then ancient Greek, math, science, art, philosophy, and so on may be taught together, evoking a cultural ambiance of the ancient world.”
Now, the Ross curriculum isn’t perfect (which is to be expected from any evolving system), but it’s pretty damn great. Maths are taught in the same order as they were developed: arithmetic, geometry, algebra, dynamics and chaos theory. Without giving it much thought, some of this order makes sense- geometry and static spatial patterns come naturally to a little kid; algebra, with its more complicated and abstract equations, is suited for a more developed mind. And yet in New York, the Department of Education introduces algebra in THIRD grade!
OK, my cup runneth over on a tangent, but I guess I’m trying to say that if I take my kid on a big trip, I would want to teach her math within a Ross-like system that matches maths with cultural history. And where better to explore cultural history at the actual sites where insane wars happened (wayyy in the past, not current wars, OK, Mom?) and UNESCO heritage sites were built? And what about science- learning biodiversity in rain forests, drying rivers and deserts? If I’m to do this whole educating-my-kid-thing, I’d want to combine a bit of the unschooling model (child/passion-led education) with a maths curriculum- the Ross model is one such method. Here’s a taste of what this might look like (according, again, to Abraham):
1. Prehistoric cultures / Arithmetic mentality
2. Classical Civilizations / Geometric mentality
3. Medieval civilizations / Algebraic mentality
4. Modern industrial civilization / Galilean dynamical mentality
5. Contemporary planetary civilization / complex dynamical mentality
Now, implementation is always easier in theory. I still would need to have an understanding of various maths in order to teach them to my child, correct?Unfortunately, most great educational math websites I’ve seen teach to the test. Where and how does one foster any other sort of learning?
Guys and gals, I’m going to need your help. I can teach out of a text book with the best of ‘em, and I can certainly Google formulas I might not remember. Hell, there are even websites such as Society for Chaos Theory that have resources for students and teachers. Awesome. But WHAT do I teach? HOW do I develop a curriculum that combines a trajectory with the whimsical nature of my kid? Do I first come up with an itinerary for a trip and then plan some field-trips to learn cultural history (on a side note, theEdventure Project has some interesting virtual field trips that I’d like to check out), which might then feed writing projects and science labs? I can easily see doing all of this. I didn’t learn about Pre-Columbian, Medieval, Japanese, Russian, Modern, Contemporary and a mess of other artsy shmartsy movements/time periods at Columbia University for nothing. Nor did I take music, performance and literature classes just because I’m in love with music, performance, and, well, literature (OK, maybe I did, just a little). Nor did I take those incredibly difficult biodiversity classes just to increase my student debt.
OK, then, *gulp*, where do I throw in the maths? Conceptually, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it (I’ve got the Math Disease, remember? Abraham said so. I have an excuse). I do know feel that I’d need to throw in a little more structure in regards to maths to compensate for my uneasiness with teaching its various branches. I’d want to make sure it gets done and that my super smarty pants kids continues to get 4s on her state exams (on a 1-4 scale).
OK, let me recapitulate what I consider to be important components of a global education if I’m going to go balls out and teach my kid on the road:
1. Provide a year around education.
2. Give assessments.
3. Medicate my Math Disease: I can and I will teach my kid some crazy good maths, yo.
4. Develop an itinerary for my trip that includes stops at places of cultural significance, hold artistic value and where Anevay can safely learn about unrest and issues facing the people of this world (all of these things are relative, I’m well aware).
5. Plan field-trip lessons in advance of visiting new places so that Anevay can be gently guided into learning some of the ‘big picture’ ideas.
6. Provide a more rigid structure for maths than for the other disciplines.
I’ll add one more:
7. Be open to constant tweaking. For better or for worse, I have a habit of getting stuck on something (thank God I’ve never been married to any of my past boyfriends). If Anevay ever showed signs of being miserable on the road, then I’d know pretty fast that something would need to be changed.
Oh, and one more:
8. Also be open to the idea that Anevay might end up beating the pants off me in math and that she could show me a thing or two.
Oh, and how about one more:
9. Start studying Spanish with Anevay. Why Spanish? Because many of our friends here in New York speak the language, which would make it easier to practice. Second language learning should, I think, start here at home (although I’ve already tried to lazily teach Anevay French and Irish, with miserable results).
I think this is a good start. If I had a mug of beer I’d hold it aloft and cry: To health, to life, to… chaos!
I’m starting to research some pretty cool Internet-based learning sites that might just help me get over my math hump. Check them out on my Global Curriculum page.