By Kuhoo Gupta
People undergo anxiety attacks, panic attacks and hyperventilate at the mere mention of mathematics. For some, it might be attributed to the lack of foundational concepts which has created a formidable image of mathematics.
While there are many concepts that can help lay the foundations for a pure mathematical knowledge, the context of odd and even numbers always puts the students in a fix. It is a parental objective to introduce children to the easy concept of understanding this topic.
If one follows a conventional pedagogy, theoretical implementation is the only way which can help a child rote learn, not understand, the concept of odd-even numbers. A child often ends up confused as he does not grasp why a number is odd or even. “Just because it is” is hardly a way to communicate the reason.
A practical implementation
One cannot emphasise enough on the importance of practical implementation. As Socrates rightly says, “I Hear and I Forget, I See and I Remember, I Do and I Understand”, it is easier for children as well as adults to imbibe any form of learning by literally doing it with actions, if possible.
In case of Montessori math of odd-even numbers, if the concepts are taught in a hands-on way and in story format, it goes a long way and into their long-term memory. In fact, we take counters for numbers, anything from the house, say kidney beans.
For instance, take number 7. Parents can ask children to pick seven kidney beans from a container and for younger tykes, who are still putting things in their mouth, one can use Legos or any other blocks.
They can be instructed to arrange them in pairs and as they go along the process, introduce each member of the pair as each other’s friends. Eventually, when they come to the seventh bean, they will notice that it is not in a pair and hence, doesn’t have a friend.
In this case, numbers that do not have a friend are odd numbers and they are always looking out for a friend to play with. Similarly, in the case of number 10, all beans will have a partner or a friend. Tell the child, this number is ecstatic as it has friends to play with. Such happy numbers are called even numbers.
The friendship idea makes it easier to demarcate the odd numbers from the even ones. Here, one can see the engagement model combined with mathematics which makes the subject approachable to children. Parents can use this path time and again to help children understand the concept of interactive learning.
Children can also be encouraged to look around them, in their environment and spot the odd and even things that occur naturally. This will not only help them be go beyond simple numbers till 10, but expand their capability. Not to mention, looking around will also greatly improve their observational abilities.
Learning with quality
Teaching by sequence is a cardinal sin of teaching numbers. A child should be left to wonder what one means by quantity. They should be left to explore the concepts of quantification.
For instance, if he needs a chapati for everyone in the family, let him get one chapati for every member and then when the chapatis are piled together, he can see how they rise up to a quantity. This is called one-to-one correspondence.
The one-to-one correspondence forms the basis of quantification and counting. Later, they can take the next step of a greater number, say three rotis where each roti is designated to each family member.
This hands-on understanding of number distribution and quantification will make more sense and impact than engaging the mind in numbing activity of sequence based learning from 1 to 20 and so on. In a nutshell, instead of introducing sequence first and then quantification, it can be the other way round. The child should understand that each number is a quantity on its own and that numbers can be sequenced.
Diverse capabilities, diverse learning
Not every child is meant to learn via a common methodology. Whether its Maths or language or science, teaching should be conceptual when the child shows interest or cues in it. Teaching something before the child is ready isn’t going to achieve much.
It would rather push the child into a conundrum and also lead to an utter lack of curiosity as nothing makes sense. This is a dangerous situation as the child loses his love for learning and merely accepts whatever is being asked of him academically.
The concept of even and odd should be taught when the child is making sense of pairs and is well-versed with quantification rather than just learning a rote number sequence. One can also try teaching about these mathematical elements in a story format.
The flow of words and ideas makes it interesting and relatable for the child and since it is a story, he will be able to retain it for much longer than drilled cubes of information.
Odd and even numbers lie at the foundation of mathematical learning. Deploying the hands-on approach to learning will help clear a lot of doubts that the child may have. Since we are talking about Montessori teaching, it might be best believed that education and academics, for any subject should never take an algorithmic approach but a more organic detailing that will be customised for each child where they free to perceive the subject the way they want to.
(The writer is Founder of The K Junction.)