From the Archives: Bubble Gum Math

August 3, 2007 @ 7:30 am | Filed under:

(Originally posted at Here in the Bonny Glen in August, 2005.)

A while back, Wonderboy’s OT gave me a
booklet to read about something called "Suck-Swallow-Breathe
Synchrony." At first glance, I wouldn’t have expected it to revitalize
the study of math in my home, but that is exactly what has happened.

The booklet describes how the coordinating of these three
actions—sucking, swallowing, and breathing—is the brain’s first major
task after a baby is born. Successful "SSB Synchrony" lays the
groundwork for umpteen other developmental milestones down the road.
The entire discussion was fascinating, but what really jumped out at me
was the description of how, later in life, the brain uses SSB synchrony
as a tension reliever or to help focus on other tasks. This is why
Michael Jordan sticks out his tongue when he’s playing basketball. This
is why people chew on pens, mints, and fingernails. This (I now
realize) is why I seem to be incapable of writing a novel without
consuming vast quantities of gummy bears or gumballs. I always thought
it had to do with being a sugar junkie. I now understand that it’s
about the chewing—it helps my brain to concentrate on the work.

Adults, the booklet explained, quite unconsciously avail themselves
of the concentration aid provided by oral stimulation. I am reminded of
the editorial meetings of my past: almost everyone at the table had
something to sip, munch, or chew. Kids gnaw pencils in school, but gum
isn’t usually allowed, for obvious and logical reasons. But our OT told
about how she used to work in a school for the deaf, and when she
convinced the parents to allow the kids access to pretzels and gummy
worms while they did their schoolwork, productivity skyrocketed. A
child who would normally have spent 45 minutes struggling through a
page of math was now finishing his work in 10 minutes.

My kids, having heard snippets of this conversation, immediately saw the possibilities.

"Let’s test the theory!" cried Jane, my junior scientist.

"Mommy, where’s some gum?" asked Rose, wasting no time. "Let’s all do some math and see if it works."

"I want to do math too!" wailed Beanie, who, being only four, hasn’t yet climbed on the family Math-U-See bandwagon.

"Mom will make up some problems for you," reassured practical Rose.

And so began a routine that now occurs several times a week,
unprompted by me. The kids get out math books, and that’s my cue to
produce some gum. They chomp contentedly and work with impressive
concentration. Whether the Impressive Concentration is indeed the
effect of the gum, or whether it is the effect of the desire to
continue getting gum (heretofore a rare luxury), I cannot say. And I don’t much care.

Truth be told, Jane is one of those people who loves numbers and
patterns and mathematical puzzles and formulas. She is working through
her great-uncle’s latest college math textbook for fun. I know, I know,
it seems weird to me too. But then, when I look at a window with twelve
panes, I see twelve rectangles, or maybe thirteen, counting the whole
window. Jane sees—oh, I don’t know how many—my brain went numb after
she passed the two dozenth rectangle. (Maybe I needed some gum.) She
has That Kind of Brain. So really, I’m not sure how much additional
assistance the bubble gum is giving her. But what the hey. It cracks me
up to hear the girls literally beg me to "let them" do some math. Gee,
I’m such a nice mommy—I always say yes.

    Related Posts


12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Jennifer says:

    I may try this. Anything to make math something to look foward to – association, you know. Great idea.

  2. Kathryn says:

    I wish I had seen this when you first posted it … I think it could have saved some mathematical pain here!

  3. Kathryn says:

    I wish I had seen this when you first posted it … I think it could have saved some mathematical pain here!

  4. Kathryn says:

    I wish I had seen this when you first posted it … I think it could have saved some mathematical pain here!

  5. Kathryn says:

    Oops! How did that happen! I see three identical comments. I wonder how many Jane would see ;).

  6. Jennifer says:

    I am so doing this! My eldest is getting gum for his math class from now on! I always munch and he clicks. I never knew this was why!

  7. Jane Ramsey says:

    Very funny, Lissa! I’ll have to try this.

  8. ellen b says:

    Whoa! I’ll pass this along to my niece who teaches highschool math and have her test it out…

  9. Kelley - O2BNAZ says:

    what an interesting concept… I may have to do some more research on my own, but I’m definitely going to try the oral stimulation (gum) when we start school next week. I’m always trying to keep those kids on task, so I’m for anything that keeps their concentration level long enough to finish an assignment without 10,000 breaks.

    We’re just starting Math-U-See this year… we’re all really excited about it.

  10. veronica says:

    I had a Hebrew professor in graduate school who firmly believed in chewing as stress relief. He brought dried cranberries to our final exam and gave them to us in little cups. It actually worked (at least for me).

  11. Lisa says:

    Being a gum-a-holic myself, I find that very interesting!

    I could have used that today….we have no problems with math around here but reading! Oh, the reading! It takes my son 1-2 hours to read a short chapter. Sigh…..

  12. Tooz says:

    Back when I was teaching, I used a series called Math in Bloom, based on Bloom’s taxonomy–a fairly linguistic approach to math. Several of the lessons involved memorizing little poems to help remember multiplication facts. One of those poems, “Eight packs of gum, each with seven sticks; open wide, big mouth, can you chew all fifty-six?” We actually tried this in the classroom, opening 7-stick packs of gum and attempting to chew all 56 pieces. The kids didn’t forget 8×7 very quickly.