I had all of yesterday off work, so the morning’s first task was to move on from multiplication and on to long division. All great in theory, except that when I jumped in, full of confidence and ready to show TK how it was done, I encountered a problem. It turns out, that despite having an A grade in my Maths GCSE (currently the standard qualification for school leavers in England), and an A* in Statistics, I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO DO IT.
Until ten o’clock yesterday morning, I had spent twelve years in blissful ignorance, believing that I knew exactly what long division entailed. I honestly thought I knew how to do it. It transpires that what I thought was long division was, in fact, the standard kind and I had managed to miss a whole chunk of standard mathematical education.
Now, I don’t know what is more embarrassing; sitting down with my ten year old daughter and explaining very patiently what to do until I realise it is going to take some serious mental arithmetic to get the answer using my method, or discovering that the current education system in England allows someone to get an A in Maths without having a skill that is fundamental to basic number work. I won’t lie: I felt let down. How can I have never learned something that is, in actuality, not very hard at all? How is it possible that no-one ever noticed? I spent years working out how many times 13 went into some absurdly large number like 1729, IN MY HEAD, when there was a quick way of doing it on paper all along?!
Anyway, quite irritated at this point, our next step was to look it up on the internet but to be honest, I struggled to find any explanation that wasn’t complete gibberish to me and TK alike. Thankfully, my mum was on hand and managed, in a matter of minutes, to show me. Once I understood it, TK caught on pretty quickly and all was well in The World. For those of you who aren’t sure, long division should look something like the picture on the left.
After TK worked her way through twenty questions, we decided it was time for a change in activity. My plan had been to watch Michael Wood’s fantastic BBC documentary In Search of Beowulf, which I had seen when it first aired. I wanted to use it as an introduction to early English Literature and thought it would tie in nicely with the Anglo-Saxon theme that we had been working on. Unfortunately, when I announced this, TK made a big fuss because we had already watched another of Wood’s documentaries and she thought his voice was “boring”. Now, I think that Michael Wood is far from boring. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen any documentary of his that has been less than fascinating, but I knew that if TK didn’t respond to his style, she would soon zone-out and lose interest. So I decided to take a different, and somewhat bolder approach. Instead of Wood’s nice, safe documentary, we snuggled up and watched the 2007 Beowulf movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis.
A word of warning: Beowulf the movie, although rated 12 in the UK (presumably PG13 in the US) and computer animated, is not a tame film. There is little in the way of swearing and I think that any risqué comments mostly went over TK’s head, but what the film is, is gruesome. Having seen it before, I knew this, and knowing my child, knew it wouldn’t bother her much. She responds badly to horror and ‘realistic’ ghostly happenings, but the “ick-factor” is not something that particularly upsets her. Having said that, we both hid on a couple of occasions when a scene was really gross (there is one particular scene that always makes me heave, involving a close-up of Grendel the Monster chewing, but kiddo didn’t seem fazed).
In all, I’m really glad I made the decision to go ahead and show the movie: Although it isn’t completely true to the text, the film shows quite a lot in the way of everyday life in the time period we are looking at. Little details, like what animals were kept inside and the fact that old kings could marry very young women (who might not like them in the least!) were interesting conversation starters. There are scenes of feasting and storytelling in the Mead Hall, sea travel, as well as some nice subtle references to the slow spread of Christianity that was happening at the time. The film also includes a little bit of Old English in the script between Grendel and his Mother, which gave TK an idea as to how it sounded. Overall, I felt it was a good learning resource and TK rated it “pretty cool”.
After watching the film, I read TK a little bit from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf so she could get an idea as to how the original was put together. Then she went online and used an anime avatar generator to produce her very own Epic Heroine. She wrote a bio for her character, so that she can write her own epic tale later, and named her Eoforhild.
With that done, TK spent the rest of the evening playing on our old electric keyboard. which I had set up for her in her room. She made a small attempt to learn a tune from a YouTube video but soon found that trying out all the sound effects was far more entertaining. I figured that as long as she was experimenting, she was learning, so I let her get on with it: It was, after all, an Epic day!