Monday, April 5, 2010

Guest Post: Maria D on Love and Memorization

Online, Maria Droujkova has founded the Natural Math site, the Natural Math Google group, the Math Future wiki site, and a series of talks on Math 2.0. In person, she leads unclasses in Cary, NC, playfully introducing children of all ages to math mixed with art, drama, and love. I think of her as a math fairy.  Thanks, Maria, for offering us this gem!

My daughter K has been memorizing more complex poetry lately, which is a lot of work. She commented that sometimes memorization work makes a poem "fall apart" and lose meaning or beauty.

If you love the poem a whole lot, spending more time and attention on it through memorization just creates additional lovable meanings, connotations, and associations. The poem becomes deeper and richer instead of falling apart.

Thus we must select poems we love for memorization. But to be coherent and stable, every community needs shared social objects that absolutely everybody in the community knows well: anthems, oaths, prayers, songs, movies, books, formulas, jokes...

In K's educational utopia, small groups of people work on separate content of their choice. Still, what if you want to belong to a group through friend and family connections? You will be forced to memorize their content, whether you love it or not.

I have a solution to this problem that works reasonably well. I believe love is something we build. When I help others learn, I start by helping them build much strong love for the object through appreciating its beauty, connecting it to their meaningful contexts, finding it in interesting media and so on. Only when love is strong, memory work can follow.

Yesterday, we worked with mirror books. L took notes for the story. Meanwhile, I just want to mention, as an example, that the incredible coolness and beauty of mirror books generate much strong love for multiplication.

When should kids memorize times tables? When their love for multiplication is strong enough.


  1. Maria - thanks for this intriguing post! I'd never thought about it quite that way before. Something similar happens with music, too, but I've found there's another threshold.

    When you're memorizing a piece of music, there's a large stretch of time where you're just putting notes into your brain. No matter how much you love the piece, it can seem less beautiful than it was when you started.

    But once all of the notes are really, really in your brain, you cross this other threshold and are freer than you ever were before to play the piece in your own voice.

    What is a mirror book?

  2. Thank you for having me, Sue! There was a part about people love in that story, but I was too shy to share. I probably should be bolder. Here it is.


    How can activities that build love for an idea first start? In a network where people love one another in the context of math(*), they trust activity suggestions to be meaningful and beautiful and fun, to them personally.


    (*) Clay Shirky, "Here comes everybody": "...loving one another in the context of Perl"

    Rebecca, here is a write-up on mirror books:


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