A Year in the Life: Ambient Math Wins the Race to the Top!
For one year, 365 days, this blog will address the Common Core Standards from the perspective of creating an alternate, ambient learning environment for math. Ambient is defined as “existing or present on all sides, an all-encompassing atmosphere.” And ambient music is defined as: “Quiet and relaxing with melodies that repeat many times.”
Why ambient? A math teaching style that’s whole and all encompassing, with themes that repeat many times through the years, is most likely to be effective and successful. Today’s post is all about chalkboard drawing. 1) Why do it? 2) How complicated and difficult is it? 3) Will your children benefit from it? 4) Will you grow into it and grow to actually enjoy it? Resounding yes! on #’s 3 and 4, not very for # 2, and see below for # 1’s response.
Chalkboard drawing was one of my favorite things as a Waldorf teacher. Ok, so I’m an artist to begin with, but the blackboard and colored chalk is a wonderfully forgiving medium and it’s quite possible for even the art-intimidated to succeed. My husband once subbed for a week in my second grade classroom and his drawing of the fable, “The Milkmaid and Her Pail” was very good.
She wore a bright red dress and the essence of the story (the milkmaid’s foolish vanity as her undoing) was palpably present in the drawing. My point here is that no matter how skilled (or not) you are as an artist, your drawings will be wonderful. One of the most valuable ideas I took away from Waldorf education is that the teacher’s striving means more to the children than almost anything else s/he does. They will not only love you for your efforts, but will gain so much from your example that they will pour on the extra effort in everything they do as well.
You can construct your own blackboard fairly economically and simply. On the large side is nice, because you want it to sort of dominate the room. It imparts a great deal of the subject at hand or the general mood of the year (i.e., the fables’ animals or the heroes/saints). A piece of 1/2″ plywood is fine, but you may want to choose a better grade for a smoother surface. Cover it with several coats of blackboard paint, then frame it with a simple (stained or painted) molding. Prop and lean it or hang it on the wall with several large picture hooks and heavy picture wire. You’re all set! A new drawing only once a month is sufficient.
Here’s an excellent resource to inspire you, a website by Catie Johnson called Chalkboard Drawings in the Waldorf Classroom. This is the Essence of Grade Two page, but do wander around to the different grades, look at the Why Do Chalkboard Drawings, and the Gallery of Drawings pages. I guarantee you’ll be inspired to try your hand at a few of your own drawings. Oh, and there’s the “Tibetan sand mandala” element as well, which conveys a valuable message all its own: that nothing is too precious to let go of, and then begin again with a clean slate. (Do photograph and save them however.)
When I began the Waldorf teacher training, several specters haunted me. One was how was I ever going to teach music? And knitting? I had little to no experience or talent with either. And math?! (Actually, getting to learn math the Waldorf way and teaching it hands-on, with games, language arts, and movement is what inspired me to create Math By Hand.) But my very insecurity, vulnerability, and being able to conquer my fears and succeed was one of the best lessons I was able to teach my students!
Homeschooling parents teach most of what they teach this way anyway, but I encourage you to take that extra stretch into unfamiliar territory. You will love it, you’ll see. As always, it’s movement, story, art and playfulness that win the math day! Knowledge ensues in an environment dedicated to imaginative, creative knowing, where student and teacher alike surrender to the ensuing of that knowledge as a worthy goal. More Grade 2 fun tomorrow, stay tuned!