Finding and inspiring your child’s passionsPosted by MomOnMars on August 12, 2012
The Amazing Texas Instruments® and its teachers
This time last weekend, I had the opportunity to sit in on a breakfast, sponsored by Texas Instruments. We listened as two teachers – Tom Reardon, a high school math teacher in Ohio, and Jeff Lukins, a high school science teacher in South Dakota – introduced us to the TI-Nspire CX. I’d call it a graphing calculator, but the rich functions and maneuverability make it seem much more like a handheld computer. It’s approachable … even for those who might not be so into math.
But mostly what I took out of that session was the enthusiasm and creativity that emanated from Tom and Jeff, who taught the class for us.
You see, I have a son who loves math.
He got his first calculator at the ripe old age of 3. He would type in numbers (usually by twos and sometimes by threes)…and we all had a quota. He’d type in 75 numbers a day, I had to type in 100 a day, and dad, because he was the biggest in the family, had to type in 150 numbers a day. He even suggested that perhaps his sister, who was not even a year old, should probably type in at least 25 a day. We had rolls of calculator paper everywhere.
Now, at fourteen, he uses words like hosohedra, nub disphenoids, and symmetrical, non-polar compounds of somewhat irregular tetrahedra. Is that even English?
But he’s yet to find his math muse. That one teacher who shows him the possibilities for his gift by nurturing, challenging, engaging and inspiring. They certainly train him – for UIL and other competitions – trophies look good on a school’s shelf. And because I realize how totally cynical that sounds – I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that my son clearly enjoys winning. He definitely has a competitive edge. But competitions are still math for math’s sake (but more about that in a minute).
Teaching to the passion
As a parent, I’m constantly seeking to figure out where the magic lies…how to spark imagination in my kids around their passions. Why? Because this is how people learn. Our schools are superior at teaching in a very linear method, but the human condition is anything but linear and logical. In essence, it seems to me that many schools put the cart (curriculum) before the horse (passion). By necessity, I suppose. It seems to be the only way institutions can function in an orderly way.
So that leaves it up to us parents. We must be the ones who help our children discover and then support them however we can, with whatever resources we can, for as long as we can. This is why we decided to keep our children in public schools…so we can use what limited resources we have on enrichment activities outside the school environment.
When I meet teachers like Tom and Jeff – who are so clearly into sparking a love of math and science in their students – I’m fascinated. Beyond fascinated. Tom has actually put together an entire website chock-full of activities for the TI-Nspire. After just a short morning with these two men, I’m ready to sign up to take their classes…or at least sign up my son. (Alas, we don’t live in Ohio or South Dakota.) And I feel like I can learn a lot from them about how to teach my kids.
How math and science began
This takes us back to the very beginning of math, science and ancient civilization. In many classes, math and science are taught as core – almost isolated – subject. And yet, the roots of these fields developed as as a way to figure out practical matters and make sense of the natural world — a means to an end. But somewhere in the halls of academia, it became a study of its own. Math for the sake of math. Or, even math for the sake of passing an end of year course test. This is not how people synthesize information in meaningful ways.
I had this epiphany when my son was filling out a camp scholarship application. He said he wanted to take advanced math over the summer so he could master the equations he needed to do the angles for the units in the modular origami he is so passionate about. Suddenly, all those cryptic scribblings of mathematical formulas on scraps of paper on my coffee table began to make sense. You can imagine the lecture my mom got when she asked why we were spending so much money on a hobby taking my son to the Origami USA Convention in New York City this summer.
In a recent Google search, I discovered that origami is being used in a variety of fields from space exploration to biomedical research. Hobby? I think not. It’s harnessing a natural passion…one that has the potential to lead to a productive career down the road.
It’s easy to know what inspires me. But finding our what inspires my children is much more challenging. Some of it grows out of what they show me…more out of it what they are exposed to. Some display their passions – like my son – in numbers; others in words. Still others in music or art or sports. Some tinker and some may connect in more social or emotional ways.
The key comes in setting aside enough of ourselves to recognize a gift or passion’s manifestation in our children. I love my mom dearly, but I remember her telling me not to come home from college without a master’s degree. When I chose psychology as my major, she sent my uncle down to talk me out of it. There’s no future (read: money) in it, he said. I actually changed my major (briefly) to business. I swore I’d never squash whatever my kids wanted to do.
I think there many ways to inspire your child and nurture his passion. Here are two dozen first steps.
1. Follow, don’t lead.
2. Read together. A lot.
3. Encourage expressive children. It might be through writing or art or the spoken word.
4. Expose your child to as much as possible. Take her to as many places as possible – the park, zoo, movies, pool, nature trails, library, plays, symphony…wherever you can.
5. Notice as much as possible when your kids are around. People watch. Wildlife watch. Nature watch. And point it out.
6. Notice as much as possible about your kids. What do they play with; how do they express themselves; what frustrates them; what brings them joy?
7. Provide the tools. Early on, we made the choice to keep our kids in public school and spend the money we would have spent in private school on software, books, games, calculators, computers, musical instruments, art supplies, documentaries and experiences that would feed their interests. Think investment, not an expense.
8. Be a connector. Find and introduce your child to people who share his interests. When your child gets older, those communities may be online. For example, there’s a vibrant and respectful origami community on Flickr.
9. Ask your child to teach you. Putting a child in the role of teacher is a great strategy to finding out what makes them tick.
10. Give your child permission to make mistakes.
11. Put enough nets around them to keep them safe, but let them explore enough to discover.
12. Don’t pack the day so tight there’s no time to relax and daydream. Not all free time leads to mischief. Lack of interest does.
I’m sure you have more ideas you can add. How have you discovered and inspired your child’s passions?
Disclosure: I invited to a breakfast with Texas Instruments and provided a TI-Nspire Calculator to play with. No other compensation was given. All opinions are 100% my own.