In our math classes, we teach kids the art of solving problems by looking for patterns, finding order, simplifying, and generalizing. The three guiding principles for our math program are depth, grit, and joy.
Depth is essential because it builds a solid foundation that then allows students to tackle complex problems and to apply their knowledge to other STEM subjects.
From a very early age, we teach students to face problems that they don’t immediately know how to solve. This requires grit. We foster a growth mindset and instill in them that finding something hard does not equate to failure. This develops the ability to persevere, which is an essential skill across disciplines and in life.
Finally, we believe that very little learning can happen without joy. Math is often characterized in school as dull and boring, but if educators take joy into account when planning their lessons, students will approach it with curiosity and enthusiasm and ultimately, achieve more.
Additionally, our students learn that there is a lot more to math than arithmetic, and that there is math beyond just numbers. Even early on, they are introduced to fascinating and complex mathematical topics such as logic, geometry, topology, probability, functions, and algebra in a way that they can grasp readily. (Yes, five-year-olds can understand the concept of a function or solve an equation!) Our program has a number of exploratory activities that allow students to discover a small piece of mathematics for themselves. In third grade, it might be playing with the triangle inequality through a hands-on activity, whereas in ninth it might be proving the irrationality of the square root of two.
Across the curriculum, games and “brain teasers” serve as an enjoyable but challenging playground for exercising the skills the students are acquiring. We play games that develop our sense for numbers and deepen our understanding of place value, hone our powers of logical thought and expression, and develop our spatial reasoning skills.
By building strong conceptual awareness, an appreciation for the beauty of numbers, and a base of robust practice, our mathematics program aligns directly with the key underpinnings of the broader MLCA curriculum.
Scientific exploration is a staple of the MLCA curriculum from kindergarten onward. Initially, we build awareness of the phenomena of the natural world and seek out the explanations that science offers for them. In this way, students come to take notice of aspects of the physical environment which they have previously taken for granted and to appreciate that things work the way they do for very logical and understandable reasons. An important goal of the science curriculum in these early years is to explore numerous dimensions of nature, from meteorology, astronomy, and geology to physics and biology, and to build a sense of wonder at the elegance of creation. As students progress, we turn from simply investigating observed phenomena to building up through deductive proof to a more systematic understanding of the molecular, cellular, and physical foundations of the natural world and of its laws.
Hands-on experimentation is a critical and continuous dimension of scientific learning at MLCA. To observe the properties of physics, for example, students will build pinhole cameras and string telephones, measure waves through a variety of media, construct circuits, draw out currents with magnets, and build devices that exemplify mechanical principles.
At the same time, because a child’s world is shaped – in some cases literally – by buildings, bridges, vehicles, electronic devices, and heavy machinery, we make sure to study the application and manipulation of the laws of nature in human hands. This encompasses systematic instruction and hands-on experimentation in civil and mechanical engineering, electronics, and materials science.
In addition to engineering and natural science, our students also explore technology from the vantage point of computer programming. Programming is important not only because of its relevance to a myriad of computerized devices and applications but also because it provides students with grounding in the disciplined logic required to structure efficient routines. In this way, students learn at a more profound level how to harness technology to do their bidding. MLCA students begin a formal introduction to computer programming in fourth grade.