The number 0
Back over here, where much less blogging takes place (! How do you manage it, Clare?! Taking my hat off to you..) Lyddie picked up a maths book when we were out shopping yesterday. I'd noticed them in the past and given them a wide berth. I mean, gold stars?? They'll be handing out chocolate drops next. Or.. erm.. EMAs. Perish the thought that anyone might learn something because they were interested in it.
"I need to be doing this for my school work," said Lyddie, and put it in the trolley. Hmmm. School work? This hasn't come from me. I can only imagine TV to be the culprit - that and the way they're presented to look oh-so-shinily attractive. It reminds me of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang:
- who wouldn't look out of place on our government's front benches, don't you think..? (Was Ian Fleming home educated?) I would just rather she learned maths in a more organic way, which she is doing all the time, of course, but I'm a bit worried that this kind of prescribed process might thwart her natural learning. Anyway, it's only a book, I hear you saying, and we've done schooly stuff before, without any apparent ill-effects. So let's get to the point.
She raced through the first pages, which involved "adding to 12" - until she got to this sum, which required her to fill in the gap:
- and she could not get it! It didn't make sense to her at all. We had the split peas out, and the abacus, and I tried to help, by saying: "What do you have to add to 2, to get 2?" But she was completely flummoxed.
It was then that I started thinking about the number 0, and what a crazy, contrived question "What do you have to add to 2, to get 2?" actually is. When in life, outside a school environment, are we ever expected to apply such convoluted logic?
We went to look up the history of the number 0 and read that "the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, 'How can nothing be something?', leading to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum."
"How can nothing be something?" seems to me to be a far more sensible question than "What do you have to add to 2, to get 2?" No wonder children in the UK struggle so much with maths. If Lyddie had been faced with that question in a classroom environment, I think she'd have given up there and then.