This post is a continuation of the story of Froebel’s geometric gifts that was introduced in my previous post. I ended with a promise to tell a story about the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1876, when Wright was eight or nine years old, his mother attended the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Wright describes in his autobiography how his mother discovered the Froebel gifts in the Milton Bradley display at the exposition and brought a set of the gifts, along with an extensive instruction book, home for him. Wright describes a period of several years in which he spent many hours engaged in activities with the various Froebel gifts.
What I find exciting is that in Wright’s autobiography, written when he was in his eighties, Wright says of his experiences with those gifts, “I can feel those cubes in my fingers to this day.” He goes on to describe how much his architecture was influenced by those early experiences.
Every time I tell this story, I literally get a tingle up and down my spine. I’m imagining what could happen to so many children if only they were given these kinds of hands-on, engaging experiences in their learning of math. I envision students with objects in their hands, exploring, discovering, problem-solving, and wondering.
It would, of course, be great to have one of our students become a famous engineer or architect and attribute his or her interest, passion, and success at least in part to the hands-on experiences we provided them in our classroom. Even more exciting is the definite possibility that through meaningful hands-on experiences, many of our students can be actively engaged in and successful in learning and being able to think about, use, and apply the mathematics we set out for them to learn.
This is what AIMS is all about, it’s the vision that brought AIMS into being 30 years ago, and it continues to be the passion of those of us who are a part of AIMS today.