Friday, April 07, 2006

The Concept of Four

On Thursday I was helping my kindergartener with her homework. One of the assignments was to circle all of the four letter words. At first I smirked, "what kind of homework is this?" Of course I was thinking of those other four letter words.

Of course, my daughter had to count the letters for each word. As a cognitive scientist, I sat there looking at the poem. The four letter words just jump out. I don't have to count. I seem to be able to recognize the concept of fourness.

I cannot really talk about the concept of fourness. It is procedural knowledge rather than declarative knowledge. As I sat there longer, I wondered how to "teach" the concept of fourness to my daughter. How could I get her to recognize fourness in the world without counting?

While she worked on the third paragraph, I thought about this. Then I decided that four is most easily conveyed by two pairs. So I showed her how if I hold up two fingers on each hand, each hand had a set of "partners." Then I slid my hands together to show her the four fingers. We can call this the two sets of partners theory of fourness.

Then I showed her the words she had already circled. I showed her how each word had two sets of partners. Then I asked her to circle the four letter words in the fourth paragraph without counting ... and she did it! With that simple little lesson, she was able to recognize the concept of fourness in the world.

The mind is a wonderful thing!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good teacher.....good Dad!

2:45 PM  

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