When mathematicians describe mathematics, they use words such as beautiful, elegant, deep, exciting, joyful. At the Classical Academy, we strive to instill a similar attitude towards math in our students.
In our math classes, we teach kids the art of solving problems by looking for patterns, finding order, simplifying, and generalizing. We emphasize that, like all arts, math is very much a human endeavor, and as such we teach it with historical perspective. For example, the children learn about ancient number systems, how they evolved and why, what our system borrowed from them, and where their inefficiencies lay. This allows our students to appreciate the elegance, depth, and efficiency not only of our base-10 system but of the full body of mathematical discovery that system has birthed.
At the same time, our students learn that there is a lot more to math than arithmetic, and that there is math beyond just numbers. Even early on, they are introduced to fascinating and complex mathematical topics such as logic, geometry, topology, probability, functions, and algebra in a way that they can grasp readily. (Yes, five-year-olds can understand the concept of a function or solve an equation!) Every week, kids work on an exploration activity in one of these areas and discover a small piece of mathematics for themselves. Here is an example of such an activity, through which 5-7 year olds discover the triangle inequality.
As students gain facility with mathematical operations, they also learn how to use simple devices of mental math to parse seemingly complex computations into easily executable chunks, thereby effortlessly calculating large numbers in their heads. While such skills may seem unnecessary in an age in which even calculators seem archaic, the poise with which Classical Academy students come to approach numbers helps them consider and question the figures we come across every day. In fact, their facility with mental math continues to be reinforced throughout all grades as students are asked to apply these skills across a range of subjects – from historical facts (e.g. what does it mean in human terms that 620,000 people died in the Civil War?) to science to current events.
In every grade, games and “brain teasers” serve as an enjoyable but challenging playground for exercising the skills we are acquiring. We play games that develop our sense for numbers and deepen our understanding of place value, hone our powers of logical thought and expression, and develop our spatial reasoning skills.
By building strong conceptual awareness, an appreciation for the beauty of numbers, and a base of robust practice, our mathematics program aligns directly with the key underpinnings of the broader Classical Academy curriculum.
At the Classical Academy, we take very seriously the dominant role of technology in the twenty-first century world. We prepare our students for success in this world not by providing them with default iPads but by giving them a solid grounding in math and science, and by undertaking direct study of technology through the applied sciences of engineering and of coding – and the immersion in formal systems of logic that coding expresses.
Scientific exploration is a staple of the Classical Academy curriculum from kindergarten onward. Initially, we build awareness of the phenomena of the natural world and seek out the explanations that science offers for them. In this way, students come to take notice of aspects of the physical environment which they have previously taken for granted and to appreciate that things work the way they do for very logical and understandable reasons. An important goal of the science curriculum in these early years is to explore numerous dimensions of nature, from meteorology, astronomy, and geology to physics and biology, and to build a sense of wonder at the elegance of creation. As students progress, we turn from simply investigating observed phenomena to building up through deductive proof to a more systematic understanding of the molecular, cellular, and physical foundations of the natural world and of its laws.
Hands-on experimentation is a critical and continuous dimension of scientific learning at the Classical Academy. To observe the properties of physics, for example, students will build pinhole cameras and string telephones, measure waves through a variety of media, construct circuits, draw out currents with magnets, and build devices that exemplify mechanical principles.
At the same time, because a child’s world is shaped – in some cases literally – by buildings, bridges, vehicles, electronic devices, and heavy machinery, we make sure to study the application and manipulation of the laws of nature in human hands. This encompasses systematic instruction and hands-on experimentation in civil and mechanical engineering, electronics, and materials science.
In addition to engineering and natural science, our students also explore technology from the vantage point of programming. Programming is important not only because of its relevance to a myriad of computerized devices and applications but also because it provides students with grounding in the disciplined logic required to structure efficient routines. In this way, students learn at a more profound level how to harness technology to do their bidding. Classical Academy students begin a formal introduction to computer programming in fourth grade.