Shunya Chart and Math Way: A novel way for elementary kids to experience math
Algebra should be removed as a requirement for those not in STEM major, argued Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college in 2017. As per this NPR article, Say Goodbye To X+Y: Should Community Colleges Abolish Algebra?, “Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads. It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country.”
State of Affairs
The current situation is not surprising considering how math is introduced in early schooling. In elementary schools, young minds face unfamiliar concepts in rapid succession. For example, multiplication table is not intuitive for first timers. Concepts like commutative property or area of geometrical shapes are introduced with formulae instead of delving into how some practical applications led to these formulae. The formal curriculum does not give students an opportunity to experience the concepts.
Math is fun and a lot can be done in these formative stages to help kids immerse themselves in the wonderful world of math. This is even more important for underprivileged students and would-be first-generation graduates who must rely solely on the formal institutions and academies to lay this foundation.
Elementary Math: Past and Present
Historically, Mathematics has been introduced to children by practice. If we wind back the clock a few centuries, daughter of a grocer would have learnt how to add, subtract and multiply while helping her parents in the store. She would have learnt fractions while working with weights and breaking a bill (a coin rather). Math was learnt intuitively as part of a daily living experience.
In current times, Mathematics is introduced to elementary students in a linear fashion. Parents will notice that kids sequentially work their way through the curriculum that resembles a neatly organized checklist. Unfortunately, intuition has no role to play in this structured method.
It is to the credit of teachers and academic leaders, that, students still get to learn through some innovative ways. For instance, hands-on-play, lego building blocks, base-ten blocks and word problems allow students to better grasp the concepts.
However, once children go past addition and subtraction, fun methods give way to rote learning. The first challenge they face is the multiplication table, the dreaded multiplication table!! It gets progressively worse after that for some. In later stages, Algebra gets most students. It is quite evident why STEM enrollments in higher grades are not what they ought to be.
I noticed traces of this firsthand with our son as soon as he turned 7 (he is about to turn 8 as I write the article). Inherently curious and playful, he relished word challenges, sorting, approximation, coin combinations and many hands-on themes. But once he reached multiplication tables, monotony got to him. He developed a strong dislike to the tables as he could not relate to them. I could now appreciate how some kids disengage from the math way and lose out on the fun part of STEM in higher grades.
Shunya Chart: For Cool Maths
Quite concerned, I worked on building a cool teaching tool for math. The objective was to create a tool that can help him ease into many of the elementary mathematical concepts coming his way. The outcome is “Shunya Chart”.
“Shunya chart” is built around origin point(s) — (0), (0,0) and (0,0,0). It leverages axes and grids, much like the graph chart that they will encounter later in middle school, high school, and standardized tests. Shunya Chart leverages patterns to help students intuitively internalize otherwise abstract concepts. Once students get comfortable with these concepts, they may transition to traditional methods for practice.
For instance, here is an illustration that shows two traditional tools for basic multiplication along with new Shunya method for basic multiplication. You may notice that commutative property (AxB = BxA) is much more intuitive in Shunya chart. One may notice hint of geometry and negative numbers as well.
This chart can help students explore and discover the following
1. Basic arithmetic operators — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, rounding, estimation, quotient
2. Natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, and rational numbers
3. Number Patterns, even/odd numbers, square of numbers and cube of numbers
4. Arithmetic properties — commutative, associative etc
5. Fractions and Measurements
6. Angles, 3rd dimension (z axis)
7. Geometrical concepts — Area, Perimeter
8. Basic algebra — Slope, Y-Intercept, Lines, Curves
Making of the Shunya chart
From building Shunya Chart to playing with it, it is a fun activity in any environment — home, classroom, enrichment classrooms, day cares or afterschool centers. An adult may guide kids to make Shunya chart on a magnetic whiteboard and have them handle the magnets. One can even draw it on playground or classroom (think hopscotch) and have hop through the grid doing math.
My son and I went with magnetic board. The below series of images show how our son had fun creating Shunya Chart on a 18"x24" magnetic white board. He used color dry erase pens, a ruler for marking grids, and some improvisation with legos and escrima stick (a stick fighting tool) for drawing longer lines.
In the next article, I will focus on how Shunya chart helps students intuitively discover addition, commutative property, associative property, and combinations. Let the fun math games begin.
Whether you are parent, a teacher, an administrator or even a passerby, if you have any ideas or experiences to share, love to hear from you. Please leave a comment and follow for future updates.