My latest book, Grow Your Brain, was written for use with 1st and 2nd grade children and for their benefit. But it was not written with only them in mind. This dedication makes it clear.
Grow Your Brain is dedicated to our 1st and 2nd grade children, their parents, and their teachers, but also to much older students, to the millions of College students throughout the US who were never given a chance to get a great start in math in their early Elementary School years.
In all our Community Colleges and many Universities, these students know the cost in time and money, in aggravation, in self-doubt and humiliation of having to take remedial classes on topics that should have been mastered years earlier. They know how close they were to giving up on a career in teaching, nursing, or the hundred different professions that make up the fabric of a thriving society because of their fear of Math and their doubt on their abilities. They know how, for some communities, it is not just a sizable proportion who are left on the wrong side of the achievement gap, even on the wrong side of basic functional numeracy, but a majority, and how costly that is for themselves and for society. Grow Your Brain was written with them in mind, in the conviction that it doesn’t have to be so for the 1st and 2nd graders of today.
And to our teachers, I am in awe of what they do day after day. But, if it doesn’t achieve the desired goals for so many of our students, then, maybe the remedy is not that they should do what they already do well a little bit better, but use their talent and dedication to do things differently. On simple topics, in very concrete and practical ways, that is what Grow Your Brain attempts. For example, it uses a vertical number line instead of the traditional horizontal one: if this makes things just a little bit easier for children (and it does, much more and in more sustained ways than most can imagine), why not at least give it a try? To move numbers around and group them, instead of a reliance on properties of operations, we use bubbles with no technical names attached to them: here again, a change in vision with multiple implications and benefits that stretch all the way to algebra years later. We use cards that focus on teaching a very limited number of facts instead of aiming to teach all that we want children to know, and then we build on that foundational knowledge. Each element of this book has small details that focus more on promoting thinking and thoughtful connections than on the facts themselves.
I am always struck how the powerful jet engines that lift planes to 40,000 feet push the plane forward, not up. It is the speed acquired through the forward thrust that lifts the plane. Goals are not necessarily achieved by pursuing them head-on, exclusively, and at all cost. Knowledge itself is a thinking activity. Teach children to think, and the facts will come along for the ride.