Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Don't You Understand?

Day 4 of back to school:

5th grade math picks up where 4th grade math left off (theoretically).
The lazy days of summer rot the math quadrants of the brain I think.
We are easing into division with an introduction of some guidelines (aka "cheatcodes") for what numbers are divisible by 2,3,4,5,6,9,10.

There are a handful of rules you can use to figure out if a larger number is divisible by any of these numbers. For example, if the sum of the digits is divisible by 3, then the number itself is divisible by 3. Test yourself: is 102,405 divisible by 3?*

Anyway, it is often the case that Wylie's mind interprets directions literally. This is particularly the case with verbal instruction. The last two days have had assignments with the guidelines written down. And, I have tried to reinforce those guidelines verbally.

This was met with "I don't understand" to which I replied

"What don't you understand?"

And, now I'm asking you: what kind of question is that? I mean, if you don't understand something how can you explain what you don't understand? This is the kind of brain cramp we run into with learning new concepts. Now, by the end of the second day's assignment, with me reading each guideline and asking him "what is the sum of the digits, is that number divisible by 3, then write down 3...." Wylie caught on by doing the problems. He understood the guideline by doing the work.

This is just an ordinary day in the life of a 5th grade teacher, I know.

But, as usual, these experiences hold more meaning for me. ...

Sometimes, grown-ups wrestle with problems over and over again. And, to some extent if you are honest, there are "guidelines" or cheatcodes available to us (counseling, wisdom of elders, the Bible, etc). And, yet we cry out many times in frustration "I don't understand"!

My sense is that--just like Wylie had to learn by doing--we have to follow the instructions we are given step-by-step and keep failing forward to begin to understand.

What don't you understand today?


1 comment:

Angie said...

Oh Jill...I remember that lesson from when I taught 5th. I think I skipped it the first few years until I had time to actually figure it out myself.