Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Letters and Numbers

I remember in first grade how challenging the Dick and Jane books were to read. It was so hard to sound out the letters and hear the word at the same time. It was easier to look at the picture and tell the story. Honestly, what do you think sounds better, the words or the story in the picture?

This is what the words say:

"See, see. Oh, see. See Dick."
But, this is what the picture says:
"Dick was supposed to take Spot for a walk but thought it would be easier if he wore his roller skates. Everything was going fine when all of a sudden Sally's evil cat got away. Sally went to get Jane to help her find the evil cat called Puff. Sally and Jane looked and looked and looked but they could not find Puff. Then suddenly they heard Dick's roller skates coming down the side walk and Spot barking loudly. Sally and Jane jumped back off the sidewalk just in time to see the evil cat being chased by Spot who was pulling Dick around and around the block on his roller skates. Sally and Jane thought Dick was really cool. Dick thought this was the best day of his life."

To a first grader the words clearly get in the way of the story. Of course, I did not understand that there were books without pictures and that reading and writing would eventually be essential.

I also remember bringing home an arithmetic assignment and my dad explaining to me why the teacher counted the problem wrong when I had written that 0 + 0 = 1. I remember spending time thinking about the 0 + 0 = __ problem in class during the assignment. My reasoning went like this: if 1 +1 = 2 and 2 + 2 = 4 then 0 + 0 must equal one of the next higher numbers that comes in the sequence after 0. So, 0 + 0 = 1 was my argument. At home Dad took two empty bowls and dumped everything that was in them (which was nothing) into another empty bowl. He then asked me how much was in that third bowl. When he put it that way it was clear that nothing plus nothing equals nothing. Of course, ten years later Billy Preston turned this concept into the hit song "Nothing from Nothing" when he sang "nothin' from nothin' leaves nothin', you gotta have somethin' if you wanna be with me."

It is interesting to look back at the process of trying to find patterns and logic in the little numbers written on a page. It is almost impossible to make sense of the mathematical system when it is seperated from our daily experiences.

Mr. Wiemers

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