Thoughts on teaching calculus to five-year-olds

Maria Droujkova writes, "Last week, The Atlantic published my interview called 5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus. I have been following the discussions on blogs, forums, and news sites. The themes that emerge from discussions make me cautiously optimistic. Many grown-ups believe that young math will finally give them a second chance at making sense of algebra and calculus. Others look for the balance between conceptual understanding and the fluency at manipulating numbers. Even if 5-year-olds understand calculus, what would they use it for?

Can we even call activities 'algebra' or 'calculus' if there are no formulas? Are young kids capable of abstraction? Quite a few people come out saying they are already playing advanced math games with toddlers or young kids – or that their parents did so with them! My community Natural Math will be following up on these themes with an open event series, interviewing parents, teachers, researchers, and project leaders who work in related areas.

One theme that I wish was discussed more is the role of autonomy, decision-making, and openness. If kids can't have their free play, or can't say no to activities meaningless to them, math can hurt, whether you work on calculus or simple addition. That's where most of the 'math grief stories' I receive come from. If parents and teachers can't choose, adapt, localize, and remix activities, it severely limits how they can help children learn. And if materials don't have open licenses (I use Creative Commons), it is hard to share or even discuss these adaptations. How can we create diverse, robust, sustainable structures where children are free to learn mathematics, and grown-ups are free to help them?

5-Year-Olds Can Learn Calculus [Luba Vangelova/Atlantic]

(Thanks, Maria!)