Ideas are a Result of Genetics and Experiences

Whitman Giant Tell-A-Tale edition, 1963

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The other day I saw my 7-year old son’s homework strewn about on the kitchen table and asked if he needed help. He replied, “It’s not due til Friday. I don’t need to start it yet.”

I though, ‘Ah, the makings of a procrastinator.”

After a bit of encouraging, my son decided to do a portion of his homework. The assignment included reading a book, completing a worksheet, and creating a diorama. My son had read the book previously, so he started on the worksheet. To complete the worksheet, my son needed to list the main characters, the title, and then write a few sentences about the beginning, middle, and the ending of the book.

Interestingly, as he began what I considered a language arts assignment, he started asking me about math. My son’s questions included, “What’s 31 divided by 3? Can you show me how to divide? What is a third of 31?”

I was confused by his questions. I wasn’t sure what math had to do with a book report. When I probed, he showed me his book, The Gingerbread Man, and said, “Mom, see it has 31 pages. I’m trying to figure out how many pages are in the beginning, the middle and the end.”

While my son is mathematically inclined, I am not and thought his approach to the writing assignment was novel. I also saw flaws in using division to figure out the story structure. As a rule of thumb, I don’t think most authors limit themselves to thirds when writing a book. Not knowing whether this technique was what he had learned in school, I tread lightly and asked a few questions. What I learned was that dividing the pages was my son’s idea.

This led me to questioning where ideas come from. Though research in this area is nascent, preliminary findings suggest ideas are a result of genetics and a result of our experiences, or the associations we make from our experiences. Our web of understanding both constrains us by building boundaries for our ideas, as well as, liberates us by providing a pathway to new ideas by broadening our experiences.

Given my son and I are naturally inclined to solve problems from different angles (non-math vs. math), I think it will be interesting to spend more time thinking about how each of us thinks to learn more about the roots of how our ideas are generated. I find translating a book report assignment into numbers fascinating and look forward to learning more.

Stay tuned.

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One Response to Ideas are a Result of Genetics and Experiences

  1. Pingback: » What To Do with a Kid Who Loves Math?

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