What Willy Wonka Reminded Me About Learning Mathematics

A few weeks ago, I took my two children to the store to pick out a movie while on mid-winter break. Much to my delight, my daughter picked the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It had been over 15 years since I sat and watched this movie. As we all gathered on the couch, I wondered what my kids’ reactions would be?
Almost instantly, my daughter started crying. She was scared. As the children entered the chocolate factory, she focused on the fact that they were being separated from their families as each child made a mistake. The bribery of chocolate could not remove her focus on the loss of the children. It overwhelmed her, scared her, and made her want to turn it off instantly.
My son, two years older than my daughter, experienced the movie completely differently. He saw this through the world of candy. Focusing on the immense quantities of chocolate, he continued watching wondering what types of candy or candy adventures they would get into next.
As I watched it, for the first time as a mom, I saw the numerous societal issues the movie was encouraging the viewer to think about and consider, many of which still exist today.
What was so interesting was that we all watched the exact same movie. The difference wasn’t in the movie but in how we each internalized the movie. This made me think about my own evolution of watching this movie.  
At five, I saw it about right vs. wrong. I learned to obey my parents and authority and do as they had told me to do or face consequences. At seven, I saw it as a movie of imagination and creativity. What could be possible if we simply thought outside the box? Watching as a mom, I had diverse opinions. I want my children to learn to respect authority while also understand that in certain instances, one will have to think outside the box and go against mainstream thought.
The point is, as we go through life we can view the same thing repeatedly. However, when we are ready to see it differently, somehow it takes on a whole new meaning. Based in maturity, engagement, openness, belief in us by ourselves or others, etc. our lense at which we see something changes even though what we are viewing actually doesn’t change.
This made me think about my own teaching in mathematics. If I introduce a concept once and expect students to know it, they may or may not be in a place to receive the information as presented. It may not be a representation of their capabilities but rather more about timing, perspective and maturity. If taught again, at a time when the student is ready for a new message, the mathematical concept deepens in the understanding of the student. Thus, we must continue to weave through the big ideas rather than teach mathematics as a series of disconnected pieces. 
This made me think back to a conversation I had with Dr. Ruth Parker. In quoting Walter Denham, she recounted his saying “when you talk about mastery…The ‘big ideas’ are never fully mastered;they deepen in complexity over time.”
Perhaps that is exactly what I am learning, mastery is not something I can obtain. We all are in a constant state of learning, ready for “ah-ha” moments as we attack the same lesson over and over again. When we are ready, at our own pace, we move to a new lesson and the process repeats.  
As I reflect on my own progression of learning mathematics, it is much like my evolution of my viewing of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The more I encounter a big idea in mathematics, the more opportunities I have to see it with a new set of eyes that creates a deeper understanding of the concept. Seeing a problem from different angles, increases my level of understanding and ability to communicate and defend my reasoning with others.  
As a mom and teacher, I am rethinking my expectations and reminding myself that students need multiple opportunities to develop big ideas. And… though the path of learning may not always be sweet, like great chocolate, it is rather rich in depth. 


One thought on “What Willy Wonka Reminded Me About Learning Mathematics

  1. See Jean Piaget,(1896-1980) and the process of coming to know through assimilation and accommodation. The child must have the necessary pre-concepts, or schemas, (acquired through sensori-motor experience) in order to assimilate new ideas, and then accommodate them within her cognitive structure, thus achieving understanding..


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