Wordless Math Art with Cuisenaire Rods
Wordless math is just that, math with no words and yet, it beckons us to speak words.
We are surrounded all day with wordless math that it is easy to miss it.
Taking the opportunity to notice it is an important way to cultivate a math mind, connect with your child over math and tap into their math-imagination.
But where do you begin?
Well, their imagination, of course.
At the heart of all child's play and central to the imagination, there lies a story that a child narrates to themselves. This story, whatever it may be at the moment, is the heart of their delight and within it, there is that unspoken math.
So how do you go from imagination to wordless math art?
From Play to Wordless Math Art
Cuisenaire rods are my preferred tool because of they are colorful, cheap and have an innate mathematical quality.
It is easy to begin with a play session of just building as the child's heart desires and transforming the conversation into a dialogue and exploration of math. You can also read a story to engage their imagination and recreate their favorite scene using Cuisenaire rods.
This is also an opportunity to make math personable to your child's on-going narrative. Throughout this activity, children will build a meaningful relationship with math and see math is everywhere. They will learn math fits into their personal exploration of truth, beauty and life.
Questions to Engage Wordless Math Discussion
But how to do you take math art and turn it into wordless math problems worthy of discussion? Here are some great starter question to get your discussion started.
- What is happening in the picture?
- How does it make you feel?
- What do you think will happen next in the story?
- What colors do you notice?
- What shapes do you see?
- What do you think is most important?
- What do you find interesting?
- What is least interesting to you?
- What is similar?
- What is different?
- Do you see a pattern?
- Which part makes up most of the picture?
- Which part makes up the least?
- What do you think the picture equals if white equals 1?
- How would you group this picture to calculate its value faster?
- What if white equals 10? Or 2?
Of course, don’t ask all these questions in one day. Instead, take a picture of the work of art. Get it printed out to hang somewhere. Make this work of art the center of discussion that you come back to all month.
Wordless Math Art Builds Stronger Memories
Within all these questions, there is opportunity to discuss and extrapolate a lot of math. In this activity, we activate more parts of the brain than strictly a lecture would or focused efforts of memorizing. In doing this, we create a stronger memory for the child. It makes strategies and facts learned through their experience and meaningful discussion of their art more accessible to them at later dates.
This activity also makes wordless math an individualized experience and helps to develop the child's insight for math all around them. If they can extrapolate so much math from just one work of art, how much can they find in the world around them? And so the hunt begins...
A child takes pride in having their small work of art the origin of so much discussion. It is something you can bring to the table at dinner time, too.
The Beginning of Problem Solving Skills
The beginning of problem solving skills is the ability to draw information and know how to use that information. That is exactly the skill built in this activity.
Only in this format the questions are designed to observe the math hidden in the picture. There is no pressure for the child to answer in specific way, so every observation is valid and important.
When we jump right into problem solving by restricting pictures with word problems, we skip this necessary skill of observing and playing with information. This expects too much from children, especially children who have not had their observation skills cultivated.
In my last post, I demonstrate the power of observation to solve puzzles with a free download to help you discover the simplicity and power of observation.
What We Can Learn from Wordless Math
This noticing and wondering about a child's wordless math art demonstrates three things. One that there is a lot of math hidden in a picture. You can observe this depth of hidden math in this post here.
Two, as a parent, when we notice that there is so much math to be seen, we can have sympathy when a child hesitates to answer certain questions.
A child hesitant to answer is often a child worried about what your question is really asking for. They may see more than one way to answer the question and fear to answer incorrectly.
Wordless Math Removes Barriers
Wordless Math helps to remove that barrier for both parent and child. There is no hidden agenda with wordless math art. It's just you connecting with your child's perception and gently connecting them to the language of math to describe the math they see all around them.
Three, we get a chance see that a child does have an innate math mind. This is very important to many mothers who suffer from the misconception that some children are mathy and some are not.
When children are allowed to share without expectation, they are able to demonstrate to themselves and to others that they have valid observations and that they are capable of discovering truth for themselves.
It is only when we open the discussion in a way that fits into a child’s personal narrative and removes the constraints of expectations that we begin to see this mind that has always existed.
For me, this is my very experience. To see my daughter smiling confidently over math, gives me such joy. Because before, it was tears. I've learned she has incredible insights and surprises me with her math discoveries every day. I would have missed out on this if I had stuck with traditional math.
Get Wordless Math
This is just another example of cultivating original math composition. You can read a post on our own personal wordless math art journey that demonstrates how much math can come forth from Cuisenaire rod art.
I hope you kids enjoy being the center of the math discussion in your home like mine have.
For more examples of wordless math you can search #wsdmath on twitter and find endless examples of all that this activity can offer to you and your child in a variety of formats.
Be sure to subscribe, as next post explores how to take use any picture book to spark math discussion and exploration.