MHA Grapevine Newsletter Artical
It all began a year ago when Jacob, My eleven year
old, fell in love with the jitterbug.
No, its not a dance. Its a Cuboctahedron--- a three dimensional
model of a geometric shape that has the flexibility to bend and twist
into inumerable other shapes.
Jacob didnt forget about it. He kept pestering me to find out how
to make the jitterbug.
Fortunately, I ran into Gray and his father,Charles, at last falls
Minnesota Homeschooling Alliances's (MHA) conference and so I stopped
by to chat with them and found out I had stumbled onto something even
richer in eduational value than I realized.
"Hands-on-Math", as this father/son team has called their enterprise,
is a program that began as the Center for Applied Geometry in Boulder,
Colorado in September, 1994. Housed in the prototype "Fly's Eye Dome"
designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, the program is based on the research
and ideas of Fuller, called by some "The Leonardo Da Vinci of our
Charles Gronberg, (son of the inventor of that favorite of childhood snacks,
the Bugle Chip), is an engineer and inventor himself, who, with his son,
Gray, is currently developing an internet version of "Hands-on Math".
He has a passionate commitment to bringing Buckminster Fullers revolutionary
ideas into the hands of our youngest generation of future architects and
engineers, our children. We got to know Gray and Charles and their work
through a series of four inexpensive workshops held in the homes of a
group of homeschooling families.
The children, ranging in age from my youngest, Josh, 7, up to my oldest,
Jacob, 11, built their own models of the jitterbug from inexpensive items
such as bamboo skewers, rubber tubing, paper, tape and fishing lines,
all items included in the "Hands-on-Math" kit. We advanced
from the construction of a tetrahedron, to constructing geometric
models of horses, and to finally constructing something called a "tensegrity".
While children were busily constructing their complex and colorful geometric
designs, adults were absorbing as much of the theory of three-dimensional
geometry as possible, attempting to learn words such as octahedron
and icosahedron, discussing the molecular structure of DNA, and talking
over Bucky Fullers ideas for creating giant, light weight environments
that could float over the ocean and hold entire cities.
I have personally been aware of some of Buckminster Fullers ideas
for about the past twenty years, work based on his early, life-long mission
to explore and find ways to solve global problems of co-existence. One
quote I picked up from a video I recently viewed of his work seems particularly
appropriate to the homeschooling movement. "It is never the human
that needs changing. It is the environment in which he[she] lives."
He also believed that all children were born with a capacity for genius
that is often suppressed by the circumstances of life.
In his efforts to discover a means to solving world problems he invented
the geodesic dome (like the one at Epcot Center in Disneyworld). Turning
the world of architecture on its head, he theorized and created buildings
based on triangular structures, rather than the traditional rectangular
structures that are not really weight-bearing structures at all. His triangular
buildings actually weigh less and take less materials and energy
to build and maintain.
At the heart of his work is his idea that most of humanity's working theories
were developed around the time when we still believed the earth was
flat. Consequently, our geometric models of the universe are all developed
around a 90 degree co-ordinate system. Bucky, in exploring nature, discovered
that the 60 degree angle is in all of nature. Thus his models are all
built around a 60 degree co-ordinate system.
Another key idea is exemplified in the "tensegrity model", based
on the notion that compression and tension exists simultaneouly in all
systems and is a powerful and stabablizing force that can be utilized
effectively in building light-weight construction. It is essentially what
holds the planets in orbit.
Studying Hands-on-Math has exposd our family once again to the revolutionary
ideals of Buckminster Fuller.
"Much of conventional geometry is fallacious," says Charles
Gronberg, "all based on the 90 degree co-ordinate system."
Hands-on-Math gives the young scholar an opportunity to play with and
examine another approach to understanding the geometric constructions
of the world. It also gave my sons an opportunity to think in terms of
3-D construction, an important skill not taught in the schools.
Another aspect of Hands-On-Math I, as an artist, enjoyed is the art of
the model-building process. The struts used in the models are covered
with colorful tape of the childrens own choosing. The model building
is all their own with the highly-individualistic colors and patterns that
speak of and to each individual child. Constructing models of animals
with 3-D shapes, angles, and lines is a powerful practice for developing
beginning drawing skills.
Probably most important to me are the ideals of Buckminster Fuller that
have inspired Charles and Gray. Bucky believed in the possibility of having
a world that worked for everyone. He felt that with our breakthroughs
in science and technology, we have what we need to solve the problems
of our "spaceship earth." He proved that he could construct
environments that would solve issues of over-consumption of energy, death
through starvation, and over-population. Many of his ideas have been tested
and proven to be practical and applicable.
By exposing my children to his geometric constructions, they also became
familiar with the ideals of a man who was committed to making a difference
in the world. It is a natural and easy relationship for my sons, who love constructing
things and who also care deeply about the environment. Up to this
point, they have been limited to prefabricated construction toys, such
as legos and knex. With the "Hands-on-Math" materials
that the Gronbergs have designed, Jacob and Josh have the added satisfaction
of designing the actual units for construction, bringing their personal
flair to what they are making. While it requires a fair amount of
time and energy, it is a tiny fraction of the cost of the ready-made
construction kits, with the added value of bringing the childs aesthetic
sensibilities into play as well.
Finally, and most importantly of all, are Charles and Gray themselves.
Their passion and commitment to the ideals of "Hands-on-Math"
is contagious. I would recommend contacting them directly and arranging
in-home workshops for a small group of families. The workshops do more
than just supplement their kit and web-site. They actually introduce you
to two inspired entrepeneurs who are wonderful role-models for our children
and really bring alive math and geometry.
This is the kind of work that involves the whole family in examining
and rethinking some of the old ideas of geometry and architecture and
opens a door to a whole new world.
By Mary Alterman,
MHA Homeschool Mother
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