Some nostalgia: Donald in Mathmagic Land

donaldThere are some very specific things that I remember from elementary and middle school – or, really, junior high school, as it was called. The seemingly life-sized model (at least it seemed that way at that time) of the Santa Maria that we helped construct and then romped about in when I was in kindergarten. The Greek festival in 4th grade, complete with togas and laurel wreaths. (That’s when I married Cecily Wilson, which had nothing to do with Greece.) The large open classroom of my 7th grade year, with two teachers trying to keep a lid on us.

And Donald in Mathmagic Land. I know that I saw this film more than once during my school career. It came out in 1959 and was one of the first – maybe the first – educational films. No wonder I saw it more than once, since teachers didn’t have much in the audio-visual realm to share with their kids at that time – although there were those filmstrips with the audio that beeped each time the frame needed to be forwarded. To have a movie like this must’ve been revolutionary.

We had a pool table in our home in Connecticut, and I remember, after one viewing of Donald and its section on the math of three-cushion billiards, going home to practice trick shots. It was to hard to believe that simple addition and subtraction might help me beat my brother Jeff in pool, and while it wasn’t easy to make this billiard magic work on our askew table – it was set on a not-so-level floor, with shortened cue sticks since it was hemmed in by our basement’s walls – I had some success.

I doubt that I remember this film because of the film itself, although it was a rare treat at that time to see something like it in class, and I wonder if it was the application at home that sealed this memory for me – the chance to take what I saw in the movie and make it work on my own. It makes me think of other learners – including our son, the 6th grader – and the importance of that connection between the classroom and the real world. Is that what really set this movie and its math content – the golden triangle, the golden rectangle – into my head? And if so, how can the schoolhouse ensure that it connects each day with what’s outside it?

Take a moment to watch the movie. Yes, most of it is quaint and very out-of-date, but there is a charm to it, particularly in the very final section, as we move from Donald’s brain to the universe, and hear the narrator intone that the “mind is the birthplace for all of man’s scientific achievements…there is no paper large enough to hold your imagination.” It ends with a quotation from Galileo, “Mathematics is the alphabet in which God has written the universe.”

Yeah, all pretty highfalutin, but I like when education is highfalutin, when it’s real-world on two levels – that of the pool table in the basement of my boyhood home and that of my dreams, my sense of wonder, the great attic and beyond of my thoughts.

I got the above image from here.

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