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Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

How Do I Love Numbers? Let Me Count the Ways

Happy Palindrome week, everyone.

Here is an interesting fact to carry with you this weekend. From September 10 through 19 this year, our dates will be a palindrome (they look the same forwards and backward). So today, for example, is 9/13/19. What makes this so interesting? It is the last time this will be true of any date until the next century. Ninety-two years from now!

I’ve always loved numbers. Strangely, perhaps, I have loved them for reasons that others may not. Most folks may love their consistency. A six is a six all day long, and there is no other interpretation. Leave the metaphors to the English students. Give me my rock-solid whole number six. Consistent as ever. True enough, and perhaps my love of numbers derives from that consistency. But, what I love most is the way numbers inspire play.

There is a card game called 24 that appeared in my Christmas stocking as a child that I simply loved. The concept is a simple one: using any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, take four single-digit numbers and determine how to come up with a solution of 24 when you are done. You must use all four numbers on the card, and you do not have to use all four operations each time.

Some cards proved ‘easier’ than others, where the sum of the four numbers was 24, or, for example, a card with four 5s would result in this: 5 x 5 = 25, 5÷5 = 1, and 25-1 = 24. Tada! Others were more involved, asking for multiple operations and creative grouping to get the job done. Anyone looking to lose some time this weekend bending their brain, try 3,3,5,7 as your four numbers. For those brave souls who want to take this one on, apologies for disrupting any plans you may have made this weekend…

The upshot of this game, of course, is rather trivial. 24 presumably has little impact on some of the more meaningful moments that may transpire in your day. But, for the elementary school version of myself, this game gave me license to be a fearless mathematician. It made numbers a plaything, and brought me joy, even as I tinkered and iterated with ways in which the same set of numbers might get to 24 by means of a different route. Who needs a six to be so consistent when you can make it work in such curious and different ways?

I think that is why I am so excited about the rollout of Singapore Math and Connected Math Project this year as the result of our curriculum review work over the past eighteen months. What inspires me about both of these programs is not only that they produce research-backed results that will serve our students well today and into the future, but also that these results are achieved by putting numbers into play. They visualize and make auditory an otherwise written and graphic experience. They approach the study of math from a variety of perspectives in the pursuit of mastery through process, not product. They are equally rigorous and joyful, challenging and inspiring.

So, on this Palindrome week, I hope you take some time to remember the joy that numbers can create in our lives and the lives of our students. And I wish you the very best of luck getting to 24 — happy 91319 everyone.

Click the B to listen to this message at Blue Handprint Studios!

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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