My grandson, Ian, brought an arithmetic assignment home the other night that required him to not only add the numbers 56 and 58 but to draw a picture to illustrate problem. He couldn’t understand why he was being required to draw a picture when he didn’t need one to solve the problem.
When I read the teacher’s instructions I was immediately reminded of an elementary math lesson taught by Dr. William Doll (appearing with a few associates at LSU in the accompanying picture) who was then Chairman of the Department of Education at the University of Redlands. At the time he was participating in an experimental math program I had put together for my fifth and sixth grade students at Hyatt Elementry in Riverside, California.
On that memorable occasion Bill decided that he was going to teach my sixth grade students how to use pictures to solve problems and handed out a sheet of paper detailing a time and distance problem. The kids broke into their assigned groups of three and four and went right to work.
Well, a half hour later, Bill stepped to the front of the room to get everyone to admire the work of Lamita Jones, a girl (unbeknownst to Bill) who had a reputation for being more artistically inclined than academic. Stepping proudly to Bill’s side at the chalkboard, Lamita held up a beautiful, multicolored picture of an inclined road, two bicycles, and a tree.
Bill (giving dramatic voice to a couple of exaggerated accolades and beaming with anticipation) then asked Lamita to explain how she had used her picture to solve the problem.
It was then that she looked up at him with a befuddled look on her face. “Problem?” she asked. “What problem?”