Outsmarted, School


Last week Sean had an extra-credit homework assignment that involved investigating patterns.  He grabbed the clipboard and tucked a pencil behind his ear and off we set around the house to do some research.

We walked around the perimeter of the outside of the house and took note of everything we saw that could be interpreted as a pattern.  He came up with flowers, leaves, the pumpkin, the fence, the roof shingles and the bricks.  Inside he determined there are patterns on the floor tile, the fabrics of the furniture, the Kleenex box and the carved Greek key motif on my desk.

He illustrated each of the patterns, as the assignment required, and set it aside, ready to tuck into his homework folder.  That could have been the end of it, but I couldn’t let him stop there, there was just too much fun to be had.

Instead, I asked him to classify the patterns.  He studied the paper for a moment and then said it seems to him that there are patterns that God made, like flowers, and then there are patterns that man made, like bricks.  That was a pretty astute observation, and again, I could have left it at that, but he seemed open to pressing it further.  So I suggested to him that perhaps there were more patterns in his life which were less obvious than those that he could see and draw.

He tapped his pencil on the table as he cocked his head and squinted at the ceiling, a posture known to all to push the thinking ions into the brain.  I let him wrestle with it until I was sure he was stumped. Then I pulled the plastic place mat from under the paper upon which he had been writing, the one with the multiplication tables on it.  I handed it to him and asked him to study it for a moment and see if he could find any patterns.  A light bulb went off above his head, crackled and popped and then exploded into an Aha! cloud of smoke.  He quickly pointed out the 5 multiplication table, the repeating of the 5’s and 0s and also the 9s, how the numbers go up on one side of the answers and down on the other.

Since we were on a roll, I had him close his eyes as I recited a poem for him.  Then I took him over to the piano and played a simple piece for him.  I had him clap the patterns.

He went back to the table to add these types of patterns to his homework.  As he worked, I asked him if he thought these types of patterns that escape the eye but exist in the mind – were they God made or man made?

We spent the next 15 minutes at the kitchen table, bending our brains around that idea and batting it back and forth, each trying to dismiss the theories and suppositions of the other.  My hypothesis was that God made mathematical patterns and man discovered them. Sean said he felt like man invented number patterns.  I told him that I could be convinced of that.  Maybe man invented numbers as a way to describe and make sense of his world, that perhaps math is just another language.  And for the first time in my life, the aroma of math was not clinical Pine-Sol, but appealing, lilac and romantic.

And then Sean said, no, man created numbers so that he could collect taxes.

Well, there’s that too, I suppose.


13 thoughts on “Patterns

  1. Never, ever woud I have thought of math as another language. Gives me a whole new perspective on something that for 50+ years I have feared, disliked, and despised. I will never welcome it with open arms, but maybe now I can at least be cordial. Maybe . A little. Like you, I am 54 and a mother to an only child who is 12. I love and cherish him dearly and am delighted when he teaches and shows me new ways of viewing our world and life. Thank your young man for doing the same for me, also.

  2. I like the pattern where you provide wonderful posts to your blog and we, your faithful followers, respond with well deserved accolades and wishes that we had been so inspiring!

    * * *
    Oh such kind words – you put a little sunshine in my rainy day!

  3. My husband once told me a story of his trip to the International Boy Scout Jamboree in Japan in…1972? He and a buddy met up w/a Japaneses Boy Scout; not having any language in common one of them pulled out a notebook and began writing down the Fibonacci series (full disclosure: I have a bachelor’s in Mathematics and I still had to look up the spelling…). The Japanese Boy Scout jumped in and also began writing the Series. From there, they wrote a number of other mathematical equations. They communicated.

    Mathematics a language? You betcha.

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    For geeks like me who find this kind of stuff fascinating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_number

  4. Love love love!!! Sean is so lucky to have a mom who encourages him to go beyond the obvious. He’s the kind of kid I loved having in my g/t language arts class…he will “encourage” his teachers to stay on their toes. Well done, AM!!!!

  5. What great lessons to be learned in your house – for Sean and for us. I second what RosesArePink2 said!

  6. You are a great parent. You are the type of parent that will make sure Sean does well in the public schools. He is still hungering for learning.

    I believe God created numbers for us to understand HIM better. I love math. It’s a favorite of mine and I love how it’s always the same. The concepts build on top of one another but they do not change. It’s steady. It’s always accurate. I love that about God, and Math.

    * * *
    Love your comment. I was an art major. All of my work was subjectively graded, entirely dependent upon the mood of taste of the professor. In math you are either right or wrong and there’s a lot of good in that.

  7. Oh, how I wish I had the energy and time to devote to homework. It sounds like you two have so much fun, and G-man and I rush through it because we have to-we barely have time for dinner these days!
    Good job, AM!

    * * *
    It is a blessing to have the time, this I know, and I just have the one kiddo. On the other hand, there are many things around here that just don’t get done. On yet the other hand, I don’t care because we ARE having fun!

  8. You are brilliant! I never thought to do anything like that with my son. Yes he did the extra credit but we left it at that. What a wonderful way to interact and yet be learning in a fun way.

    I literally laughed out loud at the end when Sean was talking about people creating numbers to collect taxes. haha That boy of yours is so smart and funny! I guess he takes after his mama.

  9. I love patterns! What a great HW assignment! As a photographer, I’m sure you notice patterns more than most. I notice them in stories and in life, which is sometimes like stories. And since I’m married to a photographer, I notice them in nature too.

  10. Patterns and Maths. A match made in heaven (so to speak). Your boy makes me laugh every time.

    Love reading about your adventures with your son. They are so beautifully written.

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