Sunday, February 24, 2013

What would Suzuki Method for Math Look Like?

Grant Wiggins' blog features a post by Susan Fine on the Suzuki method. This image delighted me:
"Review is a significant feature of the method, emphasized in daily practice as well as in annual festivals with “Playdowns,” in which the program begins with an advanced piece, and the students play down to the Twinkles: five versions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, each with a distinct rhythm and learned at the start of Book I. Students join in the playing when the program comes to their most advanced piece."
This is the opposite of a contest model, in which everyone starts, and contestants drop out until only one is left.

Later she points out:
I often reflect on how the combination of inspired pedagogy and content-rich curriculum creates an ideal learning environment. This point seems rather obvious, yet I am hard pressed to come up with other examples of the two being so beautifully wedded to one another on behalf of learning...

What would math instruction look like if it followed a similar model?


  1. A big part of the Suzuki method is spending a lot of time appreciating a music piece BEFORE attempting to play it.

    Another big part is making your piece beautiful (not correct - BEAUTIFUL).

    And some people claim math is not a spectator sport. How can you appreciate a math piece for weeks before diving in?

  2. Great question.

    Hmm, beautiful patterns with pattern blocks? I wonder if Malke can help us here.

  3. I think my life is a fairly good example of the benefit of 'spectator math' for young children and I think the metaphor of 'music appreciation' works well here. I believe, like the Suzuki method, that you have to develop an 'ear' for music before the notes on the page really make sense. My daughter has had a keyboard and other instruments to play around with for her entire life. She has just recently made a jump from single notes and has somehow discovered chords on her own -- the harmonious blend of two or more notes. Also, literacy specialists I think would agree that you have to have a 'sense' of language and all sorts of experiences with reading to support the final step of independent decoding. Or, maybe more accurately, decoding words is only one part of the whole reading process and the more experience you have with oral language, the easier it will be to connect with the symbolic realm of reading.

    It's the same for math, at least for us. My kid has 'appreciated' my work for over a year -- when I have a project I'm into, usually something I think would work for upper elementary kids, she is mostly around the edges of the making process. For example, when I explored platonic solids with straws/pipecleaners, or even better, the star inquiry this past summer -- she admired and played with my materials and then, at some point, found her own meaningful path into the the subject.

    So, what you're talking about can happen with math, and is happening at my house. It's easier to appreciate math visually, and for most kids that's the perfect way in. Our environment is as much a teacher as any individual person, maybe more so, but we as adults can influence that environment to encourage children's abilities to gain an 'ear' for any subject -- music, of course, but as I've said, we've already been involved in learning math 'by ear' here at home.

    I'm not sure what level of math learning you're talking about in your questions above but I think pretty much any math concept (that I know of so far) could be explored visually or in some hands-on way (i.e. outside symbolic realm). I know that working my 2nd grader through math using manipulatives I myself never used when I was her age, I am having aha! moments that provide some very deep new understanding for me and, as a result, has made me a lot less resistant to the symbolic form of the same concept.

    So, if you wanted to bring the Suzuki music learning process to a math classroom, find visual or tactile examples of the core math concept/idea and have your students spend time constructing and deconstructing them. Personal agency is a powerful learning tool. Plus, fill your classrooms with images of math of all kinds -- so easy to find these days, as you know.

    Does that help?

  4. Maria wrote: some people claim math is not a spectator sport.

    I often say that in class. Students want to listen to me explain how I did something, and then expect to have absorbed it that way. It won't work.

    But if we take a step away from the classroom, watching and appreciating can be a wonderful way in.

    So how might I use this insight in my classroom? I'm not sure yet...

  5. I've been contemplating something about writing. Because I am such a noob fiction writer, I am very slow at it. So I can observe my process. I see myself going through each piece of the story dozens or hundreds of times. For that to happen, I have to not get bored along the way. The story has to be dear enough for me to return to it THAT MANY times.

    Suzuki talks about students falling in love with a piece of music enough that they can listen to it again and again and again - and that they can work on it again and again and again. I am so used to loving math problems this way that I don't even notice. But I noticed it about a new endeavor (writing).

    What pieces of math can generate enough LOVE? How can people return to that math again, and again, as if looking at a dear face day after day without ever getting tired of it?

    Ha! I want a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for a piece of math to be that lovable!

    1. I would offer Geometry and Complex Numbers...but that is just me...

  6. Hmm, I love this inspiring model. Let me see--well, this isn't exactly analogous, but one thing that comes to mind is collaboratively creating a giant fractal Sierpinkski tetrahedron, where the most mathematically experienced/sophisticated students are creating the largest scale tetrahedra, and so on down with everyone joining in creating the smallest scale tetrahedra.

  7. I wish there was a LIKE button for this post and each comment...quite thoughtful.


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