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The growth of the mind

(From The Multigrade Teacher's Handbook, published by the Bureau of Elementary Education, Department of Education, Culture, and Sports, the Philippines, in cooperation with UNICEF, 1994.)

Children's cognitive growth in any one stage depends upon activity. The development of their brainpower is not fixed at birth but is a function of appropriate activity during any particular stage. Children must engage in appropriate activities to learn. This means that they should not be made to sit still and to listen to or observe others as the primary means of learning.

Intelligence = Activity.

This can be compared to studies of prehistoric humans which show that human brainpower increased after the invention of tools. The chance to manipulate tools, to use axes, knives and shovels induced the brain to grow. As prehistoric men and women used the tools, they were challenged to explore and develop more uses of the tools and to invent new as well more efficient ones. Thus, the activity itself of using tools helped develop their minds.

In the same way, for children as well as adult learners, activity produces cognitive growth. This means that the role of experience an active learning is critical in generating growth and change. This implies that an activity-based, hands-on approach to teaching and learning is far more supportive of children's growth and development compared to more passive activities like listening to lectures, reading silently, and doing paper-and-pencil tasks most of the time. Although these are also valuable and necessary parts of classroom, it is important to remember that if most of the activities are passive there will be fewer opportunities for facilitating cognitive development.

For more information, visit Building knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.

Journal activity: Transitions

Write down in your journal some of the actions that people accomplish using mathematics, such as building houses and other structures, or estimating the value of a crop that's been harvested.

For each activity that you write down, list the different mathematics topics and operations that are involved with it. Building a house, for example, involves working with geometric shapes, calculating fractions, multiplying, dividing, adding, subtracting, and many other mathematics skills.

Then write down a brief description of at least one class project that could engage students in active learning of mathematics skills or concepts, based on your list of mathematics activities that people perform in real life. Pairs of students, for example, might establish class fictional businesses, involving calculations of the costs of materials and labour, revenues, and so on.

Try the same process for uses of language. On what occasions do we use language to persuade? In speeches and debates? On what occasions is it used to entertain? Write down at least one project in which language is used to accomplish a real-life activity.

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Last revised April, 1999
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