A Year With Amoret Lyon: The Lessons I Learned From An 8 Year-Old About Teaching Mathematics

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A few weeks ago, Amoret and I started writing our book together. That itself is a fascinating story that is unraveling in real time — how do you co-author a book between two people whose age differences are more than 50 years?

It’s actually quite easy. It involves the same ideas that have been foundational in our year of meeting together virtually three times a week for a year — curiosity, imagination, and playfulness.

And, not really mine, but more from Amoret. She is exceptional in many ways. She loves and excels at fencing, singing, and drawing/doodling. She has, like many kids, many interests — all fuelled by the natural awe and wonder of being a child.

Sadly, what makes Amoret exceptional is that she still possesses what is sucked out of so many children when they start school. Sometimes a picture tells the better — bleaker — story.

Amoret is still wildly curious. Like many, she is being home-schooled — something which is happening at an accelerated rate all over.

The birth of micro-schools has also exploded over the years. This trend will continue as institutional education — refusing to learn key lessons from the pandemic — burns itself out by burning out teachers, students, and parents.

And yes, not everyone is in a position for their child to be home-schooled, but perhaps that is the problem that needs to be addressed — how can we scale this phenomenon to make it equitable and accessible?

I ask that question almost primarily because of my one-year experience of teaching Amoret — and of course, her teaching me!

Here are just some of the mathematical ideas we have covered during that time:

Prime numbers, binary numbers, square numbers, cube numbers, the game Nim(which Amoret understands the binary strategy to win), the birthday game(another game of binary understanding), multiplication, division, exponentiation, cyclic nature of bases/exponents, logic mazes, Tartaglia* triangle, etc.(*Pascal’s triangle is called that in Italy. And why wouldn’t it, he discovered it prior to Pascal. But many others discovered it prior to him…)

Last month we started getting back into algebra, as that is where, topic wise, our book will end.

This will come out in the book, but there is something that you must know what happens in our one hour time slots — well, basically everything!

There is no agenda really. I know I wanted to eventually pivot Amoret to algebra — and NOT the way school teaches it — but other than that, it’s just been “throwing stuff at her” and sees what sticks in her curious mind.

Not surprisingly, almost everything has. That’s because mathematics is that beautiful, wondrous, and magical. School just happens to not teach it that way. I won’t get into how they teach it. You can read any number of the dozens of blogs I have written about that.

Frankly, I am getting sick of my own voice complaining about a dying system that just won’t change/can’t change.

I want to talk about the positive world of mathematics. That’s why my time with Amoret is a godsend. She reminds me how wonderful the free and imaginative brain of a child is.

As such, our lessons go all over the place. Sometimes she sings while she is doing math. Sometimes she doodles — and then asks me to doodle as well. Sometimes she grabs her dog Giotto and starts talking to him in the middle of our lesson. Sometimes she eats her lunch, and we start talking about tomatoes. Sometimes we talk about life in Italy(she lives there now). Sometimes we talk about our favorite foods, colours, animals, etc.

In some way, what Amoret does with me is illustrated by this 1956 print(very hard to find).

The eternal promise of childhood. That is what Amoret has while learning mathematics. That over rides everything — including learning mathematics.

Our lessons have always been fun, and filled with laughter. The main reason why Amoret is so far ahead in mathematics is because — and this is paradoxical — she and I are not interested in getting ahead, following rules/agenda, sticking to a boring curriculum, etc.

We have done more by doing less. Let me repeat that. We have done more by doing less.

“Less” simply means letting Amoret stay a child. Truth be told, I am still a child. Amoret knows that. That’s why she trusts me on this journey. I am just as goofy and silly as her. We might be separated by age — that’s an understatement — but we both approach learning mathematics the exact same way. It must be open, free, exploratory, and most of all, fun.

More blogs will follow, but it is important to know that Amoret and I have decided to give 50% of the profits of this book to organizations that help underprivileged girls with regards to education.

This book is going to be filled with the colour, energy, and curiosity that Amoret has shown for mathematics. The first thing we discussed is that we(meaning her) will have to draw characters that represent the emotions of learning mathematics — lost/confused, excited, curious, bored, surprised, etc.

Since Amoret and I have decided to keep this book a “secret” from her parents in term of drawings/doodles/shape and structure of the book, I am not sharing any of her initial drawings. Let me just say this, my brain never would have thought of the emotion/character “lost” as this. Never.

A child’s imagination and curiosity must be preserved — at all costs. It’s also where positive mental health originates from.

Spending so much time with Amoret has made me realize that. We must prioritize curiosity and mental health in education. It’s the only way we can guarantee that children can live the life that was promised to them…the paradise of imagination.

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Author, porous educator, audiophile.