Friday, August 30, 2013

Little Boxes: Hexaflexagons the Inspired Way

That kid is a genius. She's a math-savant. That one over there has a learning disability. Just like that other one, only she's a bit further behind. Those two over there require tutoring. That one has been skipped ahead a grade...

We're all about putting ourselves in boxes. Names, ages, races, grades, careers, professions, hobbies... the list goes on and on, and to some extent it's useful for finding like-minded people. As homelearners, unschoolers, life-learners, etc. we tend to put ourselves (and our children) in boxes, too: My son is a budding physicist! My daughter is a budding writer! Oh wait! Librarian! Maybe she's a budding educator!! Wait! I'll figure it out! (Why am I trying to pigeon-hole her??) We like to say "Oh look at all the math we're doing with this recipe!" or "...been reading the whole ________ series from beginning to end; he must be great at reading!!" Maybe he's just happy with ________. As a teacher I have become very good at identifying the "core subjects" that we cover in our explorations during Wild Art sessions. This validates what we do for parents and the inevitable curriculum requirements of our province's school system. Some people cut up their days into time for working, time for playing, and (though I think it's ridiculous) time for 'learning', (as if 'learning' only happens at that time...). We unschoolers sometimes even coach our children on how to identify themselves to others, to help avoid conflict, and promote healthy relationships. These boxes create part of our identity. But they also mask it. And they definitely prevent a lot of understanding.

So here's a box for you, and we're going to deconstruct it. 
With abandon!

OOOOOOOH! It's one of those excellent "math activities"!! It's a flat paper with 3 or 9 sides!!! Or 27!!!! Wait. What? Now you're getting interesting. So let's follow a template. They're all over the internet. Easy to find, just like the templates for paper models of polyhedra. You get to cut out on the solid lines, fold on the dotted lines, and... ta da! You made a polyhedron! Just like you were supposed to do!!! Or a hexaflexagon! Or a tri-hexaflexagon. Just like the recipe.

It's obvious where this is going. Don't do it! Save yourselves!! You've put yourself in another perfectly 20-sided little box!!

Here's what I would do, instead:

How to Make Hexaflexagons and other Math-Crafts:
Watch Vi Hart videos. Yes, they're kind of instruction videos, but she goes so incredibly fast that you simply can't follow. And she has awesome style. You can only watch and get inspired. :-)) Excellent. My kids love her videos so much that they just sit and watch them for entertainment!

Next, retire the videos, and get out materials: glue, tape, scissors, paper, big papers, thin papers, thick papers, coloured papers and white papers, maybe some fabrics or plastics or whatever other scraps you have lying around... rulers or a straight-edge cutter... and pens or pencil-crayons... anything that suits your fancy!

If you have friends who already have some inspiration in cutting-and-folding-and-glueing, get together with them and have fun letting them show you what they like to do! Then show them your own innovations!

Now play.

Maybe you will make hexaflexagons; maybe you will make polyhedrons; maybe you will make flip-books, comic strips, curly paper decorations, paper chains, paper earrings, paper clothes for your pet hamster -- maybe you will eat the paper. But you will have FUN. And you will get to the end of this messy paper session having had fun. And THAT is what is important.

Yes, sure, you're going to get some math skills in doing this. And science. Physics.  And communication skills, and dexterity practice, and colour theory, and maybe even writing and poetry, depending where you go with it. I could go on. But who cares? In trying to pigeon-hole it like this, you've probably killed the enjoyment.

So... back to that enjoyment. HAVE FUN!!! You might even be making boxes - literally! Differently-shaped boxes, differently-sized boxes, boxes with many many evolving sides and inside-out boxes that jump into different dimensions?! You might start out making a hexaflexagon "just like Vi Hart's" and end up with something really quite different, due to your own experimenting!

It's all a bit existential, really. You could try transcribing existential poetry or bendable stories onto your boxes and wig each other out with your weird performances...

You can even get together with your friends around the world and make hexaflexagons over Skype.

This is education!
This is fun!

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