Friday, January 7, 2011

Hanging on the Hills Hoist

It's a typical scene across inner Sydney the week after Christmas: friends and family out in the back garden, the BBQ is fired up, the adults enjoying a wine or three, resuming the perennial Sydney conversations about real estate, the shambles of state politics, what the kids are doing, plans for getting them into the school of our choice - debating the merits of public versus private schooling.  Meanwhile the kids are running around on the lawn, resuming their own perennial conversation between parents and children about the real purpose of the Hills Hoist: is it a utalitarian clothes dryer or a fantasy fairground carousel?

While we were debating whether Grade 4 children should be doing maths homework, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the kids had progressed from just spinning around on the Hills Hoist to playing with the laundry pegs - they had begun to make chains of pegs, hanging from the line, linking peg to peg in single file. Maths homework indeed I thought, quietly to myself, and on a hunch I snuck away from the adults to join the kids.  It took some effort to hold myself back and not just take over the peg game (so much fun!) - instead I not-so-innocently asked the kids if perhaps the peg chain might be interesting if we tried branching it off by using the pegs slightly differently. We worked out how to clip two pegs at the end of one peg to create a fork - and then I pulled back to watch the fun. The kids proceeded for the next 30 minutes to build increasingly more complex chains, to transform them from straight lines to curved lines, branching them off, linking separate chains together.

Peg chains on the Hills Hoist - with Anya and Dom. (c) All rights reserved.
As the chains become more complex and longer, they started to break. One six year old child started comparing the different types of pegs we had, developed his own well reasoned theory about which pegs we should use and how. I laughed when I realised his boisterous smashing of other children's peg chains was a totally rational consequence of his theory - chains that did not conform to his design had to be removed!

I could not help but wonder, for children still at primary (elementary) school - would a thirty minute play session exploring shape and network connections using pegs on a Hills Hoist be as helpful as being made to sit at a desk at home and do maths homework? Hattie's meta-analysis found a negligible 0.15 effect size for primary students doing homework - so maybe there is something in this suggestion.

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