like learning a language…

Some methods, especially those that rely on memory and de-contextualised vocabulary and intense grammar are awful. They start with lists of words and complexities of grammar that generally mean something to those who have studied grammar in their own language but feel so fragmented and distant from speaking that one senses its going to be very hard going. The best (in my opinion) way of learning a language is through a live course using ‘The Silent Way’, which was created by Caleb Gattegno as he learnt how people learn. Some other methods however such as the Michel Thomas courses are very good for learning at home. I personally am learning arabic using this method and find in some ways it is like learning maths in the style of the subordination of teaching to learning. I could not find a course on arabic using ‘The Silent Way’.

One immediately feels useful learning is taking place and a certain hopefulness and confidence to continue takes over. It feels optimistic and fruitful. Arabic is a bit tricky because of the written language, the unfamiliar sounds and the unfamiliar words having in general no Latin roots. Most words are completely different to what an english speaker knows and the word order and other things are also unfamiliar.

OK so this sounds a bit like coming across mathematical ideas when you are little.

The knowing use of algebraic ideas in simple conversations and question and answer ‘sessions’ using the rods is similarly freeing and powerful. You can just see it so easily in the children’s eyes and actions. There must be no pressure at all. Certainly no pressure to write anything down, unless it comes from the children, and even then do not force them to ‘write it down correctly’. Do not ‘be a teacher’ in that sense. Bide your time.

Look at Caleb Gattegno’s  ‘Mathematics with Numbers in Colour’ Book 1, part II, ‘Qualitative Work with the Rods.’  ONLINE…

Don’t take it as a ‘course’, just read it through three times:

1. As if you were reading a newspaper

2. As if you were reading it out aloud to another person and

3. Try and fathom the general flow and gist of the chapter.



observing oneself…


I wanted to do a ‘piece of research’ in which I attempted to ‘observe myself doing it.’ I have been interested in patterns in nature for many a year and thought I would drop ink droplets onto paper to see what patterns might emerge, if any. The following are 3 grabbed images of this research. I have used images here because it is necessary to maintain the complex formatting: read the first section, upper left. This shows how the original tape recording was transcribed and then thought about and re-thought about so to speak…


a further piece some way in:


When I had finished the whole experiment I made a series of knowledge claims which were quite extensive. Here’s a small example:


Well, that’s what I did…

challenge: observe yourself making a cup of tea

(or similar)

gattegno buddhism and critical theory..ah well…

Gattegno maintained there were 4 stages in learning:

1. there is something to be explored

2. the exploration of this ‘field’

3. practice in this field leading to mastery

4. transfer of this knowledge to wider fields

The Four Noble Truths of Gotama Buddha, the cattari ariyasaccani are:

1. an unsatisfactory state exists

2. how this ‘suffering’ arises

3. how to end this ‘suffering’

4. the means by which this ‘suffering’ can be eliminated

In his book ‘The Idea of a Critical Theory’, Raymond Geuss describes a typical critical theory as being ‘ a transition from an initial state of bondage, delusion and frustration to a final state of freedom, knowledge and satisfaction.’ Further, he defines a typical critical theory as consisting of three parts:

1. the belief that a transition from the initial state to the final state is in fact possible

2. the demonstration that this is in fact necessary

3. this transition can come about if one follows the particular tenets of that critical theory.

Well, at least, Gattegno, the Buddha and Raymond Geuss have in common the idea that…


but it is clearly not going to be a push-over

huatou: is it possible to change?

awareness 2 some examples in rod pre-number…

some algebra before arithmetic pre-number awarenesses

examples of free play awarenesses:

rods are good things to play with

we can make pictures

we can build models and buildings

we can play games

we can invent games

we can share our ideas

we can learn from each other

rod colours are in families

rods can be packed away in family colour order if we like

rods can be packed away in other ways

rods have a definite regular order of size

I can recognise rods by how they feel

rods can be named by colour and in other ways

directed informal awarenesses:

rods of same colour are same length

rods of same length are same colour

groups can be made of the same colour

groups can be made of the same lengths

language (word concept) awarenesses:

trains can be made in a variety of ways

rods can be swapped for others

 staircases can be made in a variety of ways

 mats can be made

mats can be made with rows of rods of the same colour

we can answer questions by making patterns of rods

awarenesses relating to adding and its inverse:

I can find one rod to fit two others

I can find two or more rods to fit one

I can find rods to fit long trains

I can find the difference between two rods in different ways

I can find the difference between two trains of any length

awarenesses relating to equivalence, multiplication and factors:

I can find one rod which fits two or more rods of the same colour

I can find rods of the same colour to fit some other longer rods

I can find rods of the same colour to fit some, but not all trains

awareness 1 an atom of education…

Caleb Gattegno never tired of saying that only awareness is educable. He said that all learning occurs due to one becoming aware of factors relating to the field of study one is engaged in. It may be one awareness or it may be a series of awarenesses.

Roslyn Young, in ‘How we Learn and How we should be Taught’, says:

‘This means that the awareness becomes the conceptual unit of learning. The awareness is to education what the atom is to chemistry.’

huatou: awareness is an atom of learning

the ferrer diagram of 12 as monochrome trains…

‘Ferrer’ means ‘complete breakdown’ that is all.

This below is a breakdown of 12 showing its prime factors:


Each row contains ‘trains’ of the same colour. You would ask children to ‘make as many trains of the same colour as you can find that will fit underneath twelve’

(or something else of the same meaning…)

you can call 12 a composite number if you wish…

if a number only has trains of white and itself it is called a prime number…here’s a few:

ferrer 2 comp primes

however the main thing here is to notice that

the number twelve has a very rich internal structure

If you are completely and utterly aware of this, many things become easier to see, conversely, or should I say, inversely,

if you are not totally and instantly aware of the inner structure of 12


(particularly with operations involving fractional parts)

let’s hear it for the rods…