My kids have a strange aversion to numbers. They seem to like the idea of quantifying things around them, but when the numbers hit three or four digits we have something of a family mental block. Recently we’ve been using the trend of infographics to help them get their head around large numbers and make them less scary. By transforming those strings of digits into picture form they are suddenly less demanding and easier to understand.
This has led to them trawling the Internet for infographics of all sorts. With our family planning an overseas holiday it didn’t take them long to stumble upon this image celebrating Air New Zealand’s 30 years worth of flights between London and Los Angeles. 84,204,720 miles flown, that’s a big number by anyone standards. In fact it took about fifteen minutes to explain how to the kids how you even say it. Seeing it represented visually seemed to do the trick though, and then breaking it down by year helped some more.
My son (7) turned his attention to flight numbers per week. Looking at the stacked up planes representing the exponential increase, he somehow deduced that after the last set shown they’d be flying 10 times a week. Only that’s not how he put it. “The planes make a curve dad, so the next one will be this high” gesturing to the ten flights a week height. At first I thought he must have seen something further down signifying this, but no: he had just looked at the picture and instinctively known what was coming next. This from the boy who doesn’t like math.
When I was at school I was slow to pick up math, and had worried that my son had be the same. But now I wonder if my problem was more with the way it was taught, and my learning style, rather than the subject itself. Certainly, my son had no problem working pictorially with these impressively large numbers. He goes back to school next week, and we decided that when he next struggles with his math homework we’ll draw some pictures to help him understand. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. If you have any other math tips please let me know in the comments.