Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Day in the Mathverse

I see so many questions that come from a place of deep fear of math. Whether it's a new unschooler who is trying to figure out how to "make sure" their kid learns math without teaching it to them, or someone who is insisting they could NEVER homeschool because they couldn't deal with math, the underlying concern at the heart of all of them is that many people suffered through horrible ordeals with "math" in school, and can't imagine that anyone would ever WANT to learn it.
I put "math" in quotation marks there because part of the problem is that it is often taught out of context, and is limited primarily to calculation, rather than an exploration of the very wide field of mathematics that exists in the world.

And that's the thing.
The world is FULL of math. It is everywhere you look, everywhere you go, and in everything you do. How much of it you choose to acknowledge, how much of it you find interesting, how much of it you find useful will depend primarily on YOU, and what you want or need to do. But even if you never choose to fully explore every concept out there, even if you never completely understand all of the ins and outs and whys and wherefores, there is no way you can exist in the world and not SEE math.

If you have children and are fearful of them "ever learning math," especially if you don't think you know enough to teach it to them, the best thing you can possibly do for them is to expand your own appreciation of math, get out there and look at it, feel it, hear it, express it. Look for beauty, and you will find math.

For the last several months, I have been working on a project that I originally envisioned as being a year long exploration. I realized that although I live in a tremendously beautiful place, not everyone has the opportunities that I have to see beauty at this level, every day, everywhere I go. When I was a teen, I had relatives ask me once, about living in New York, "How can you stand living there? There aren't any trees." They, as MANY people do, assumed that all of "New York" is "New York City."

It isn't. :-)

I've been taking pictures and posting them to facebook, to show the extraordinary beauty in the world. In all seasons. I've been out there nearly every day, with my camera, and usually, with one or more of my kids.

These past couple of days, thinking about how often people are fearful of math, and don't realize they are surrounded by it, I decided to take some pictures to show what we see out there with our cameras. I'll take a moment and point out some of the "math" involved in the images, so you can get SOME idea of how easy it is to literally surround yourself- and your kids- with a world where math is beauty, grace, color, shape, and endlessly fascinating. The more you make this part of your world, the less you will ever need to fear that your kids will "never be interested in math." Any of these things are worth exploring, or simply experiencing at whatever level of interest you may have.

We started by looking at reflections. How does light travel? What governs how well a surface reflects? What different kinds of symmetry are there?

Then we looked at some curves.

Then some circles.
Why do the bubbles stay on top of the water?

Does the size or shape or weight of an object change the splash or ripples it makes?

From there, we played with a few concepts.

Weight and gravity.

Centrifugal force.

Balance, movement and gravity.

Motion of a swinging object.

We looked at plants. There are patterns IN leaves, and patterns OF leaves.

Patterns of needles.

Patterns in flowers.


Tree bark.

Patterns of color in flowers and leaves.

Patterns of color in animals.

We explored shadows. What can the length, darkness, and direction of shadows tell you about the size of things, the time of day, the season of the year?

We looked at patterns in architecture.



A staircase.

A fence.

A lovely garden gate.


And a skylight.

We looked down, and found patterns in the sidewalk.


And manhole covers.

We examined the pattern of a light pole... and its inhabitants.

Skipped some stones as the light faded.

And ended the exploration the way it began: with reflections. (Why does the sky turn colors at sunset?)(What ARE "colors"?)

Every day is like this. Every day.
Math is everywhere.
Understanding it starts with WANTING to understand, which starts with seeing, experiencing, touching, loving.

Explore your world.


  1. Thank you for this post! Inspirational!

  2. Thanks for this post. Will be sending folks here. Relaxing, inspiring and oh, so true!

  3. I loved every bit of this! Fantastic and fun! As a naturalist and unschooling mama, I want to thank you for your inspiration to others. :)