This is a “ProBot,” Rockstar informs me authoritatively when I come back from Kennedy School Maths workshop and forget what the thing is. Short for Programming Robot. You stick a pen in the middle and “program” the thing to draw stuff. One Easter Break Rockstar did an external kiddie coding course that involved Scratch, the MIT-developed early programming language, and I have to say the ProBot steps are pretty similar. Just that one is on a screen and one is with this chunky large yellow taxi thing.
Wanna Math n Code? (note screen instructions)
In earlier years volunteering I remember sessions of mixed activities where large, wheeled “bumblebees” travelled along town maps, visiting the post office or mall, based on coordinates the kids work out and key in.
Beebot pic from tts.co.uk
But back to the ProBots. Your kids probably won’t find it as hard as you do, to figure out how these things work. To make the thing draw something like say, a hexagon, you need to work out the angle to tell that car to turn, and the length of each side. When the teacher really wants to spice things up, work groups get asked to draw say, a car.
It’s still early days for Rockstar in Year 4 (the packed hall – there must have been several hundred parents there with no seats to spare because Math – has a general information session before splitting into Y1-3 and Y4-6 classrooms of parents), but Rockstar already knew how they worked from watching the older kids during break in the school playground. That’s right, break. Not class. Some of us must be so turned on right now. Kids Learn Math From Older Kids At Break! They Don’t Actually Get Breaks! Thassa Whole Extra Hour Of Math Practice! Yaaay! Well in the packed hall of eager parents they mention that the most effective way for kids to flesh out their understandings is by teaching each other.
Which is just great, because when I hear “How many triangles can be found when diagonals are drawn from 1 vertex of a polygon to all non-adjacent vertices” I’m like, Isn’t This An English Medium School…. “…..children’s books can be effective vehicles for motivating children to think and reason mathematically…” Ok, better.
We’re treated to a reading of The Greedy Triangle, which I’d never heard of until now, recommended to us for its erm, non-threatening math stories, because of course math and early programming shalt be learnt at break, and little kiddie math stories shalt be read out with a ring of Burns or Blake.
Sponge Bob’s smarter cousin. (pic from books.google.com)
Oh, and just in case you were a little worried…
There’s “actual” math too :P
Blurry because it’s zoomed in quite a bit – I was right in back.
So we’ve got the toys. Anyone can go buy the toys. Google reviews, scour recall sites (:D) read the instructions. There’s all the known shortcuts, too.
What d’you need a school and teachers for?
Because there is no amount of technology that can replace a human element to kids’ learning, which I think is crucial.
Early on in the packed hall, a number line goes up onscreen. It’s “just” a set of pretty much random numbers – for e.g., 3, 5, 7, 4, 13, 9…… Above the numbers, a rule. Say, “+10”.
The teacher making the presentation starts to clap. One clap. Two. On the third, and following the rhythm of the first two claps, we add 10 to each of the numbers and call out our answers. 13. 15. 17. 14. 23. 19….. That’s how they do mental arithmetic drills. Simple, yet so effective. They can vary speed, give harder or easier rules based on where the kids are at – “+1” or “x7+2″……
We are told that the teacher never calls out the answer in this one. Because the kids quickly learn to lip-read, not do mental math 😀 Instead, as the kids chant out their answers, the teachers are looking at each child’s face, making a mental note of which kids are struggling, which are finding it easy… Whether some kids help each other enough, help each other too much.. whether that’s effective learning for both kids or not…..
For several years now, Rockstar has come home and mentioned groupings. Sometimes the work groups stay the same, sometimes it seems like the immediate group changes frequently, but always, there is this attention to the groups. I think they must monitor the chemistry and the progress constantly. When kids learn/ teach each other/ flesh out their own understanding, it’s nice to know there’s a qualified adult out there who is
refereeing monitoring their progress.
You could go into Tony Stark/ Age Of Ultron territory with the artificial intelligence and voice inflection recognition and facial expression analysis and what-not, or you could pay an investment bank salary to attract the absolute best professionally qualified and dedicated humans to take care of – not your investments, not your money – your kids.
In closing, we are reminded: Don’t say “I’ve never been good at math either,” don’t put it in kids’ heads that it’s ok not to be good at it cos you’re not good at it (though of course it’s true haha)… Chances are it wouldn’t even occur to them.. “We never say ‘I’ve never been good at reading,’ right?” Why do some of us still say that about math…?
Epilogue: Sure, you don’t want someone who hates kids handling your kids just for the big salary, but you probably don’t want to lose someone who otherwise loves kids and would’ve nurtured and inspired them to instead be <cringe> an investment banker haha. Melodramatic in this part of the world maybe, but in say, some public schools in the States where kids and teachers alike more frequently drop out, certain big rich hairdos could erm, throw a big amount of money at the problem? 😀
For real though, my mum remained a public school teacher her entire secondary school teaching career. I’d never seen her as motivated as when she landed in a public school in a poor, rough neighbourhood. For some time she gave free English lessons to anyone who wanted or could stay back for them (lotsa kids helped in their parents’ hawker stalls or were tired from pasar malam work). Then one day, she got a “new second hand” car and proudly drove it to school for the first time. It got carved up before noon.
Her students eventually dragged the culprit to her desk, a boy she had never seen before, who plaintively said “It was just so nice and new! I would never have touched it if I’d known it was yours.” My mum sold the car anyway, and after her batch of students graduated, she got a transfer. My point in that whole convoluted story was, sometimes teaching, being nurturing all the time to a big bunch of growing kids, can be challenging despite the absolute best of intentions. (Like, I love my kids, but sometimes I still feel like locking them in a soundproof cabinet or popping them with a tranquilliser gun like what you see on African Safari tv with the lions and rhinos – and they’re my OWN kids. NEVER DONE ANYTHING LIKE THIS OK, save yourself the call to child services. I’m just sayin’.) My point is, it’s not easy to handle the ever growing needs and changing personalities of the kids. Adding to it by erm, unnecessary or excessive complaints about school expenses and salaries doesn’t help… (For one, you’re more likely to lose the best staff first, the ones who can find jobs elsewhere faster.)
Ok change subject. No one cares what I write anyway, we want pictures of the kids!
So here’s Xena Warrior Princess
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