Caleb Gattegno bigraphy, stories - Egyptian mathematician and educator

Caleb Gattegno : biography

11 November 1911 - 28 July 1988

Caleb Gattegno (1911–1988) Alexandria, Egypt is best known for his innovative approaches to teaching and learning mathematics (), foreign languages (The Silent Way) and reading (Words in Color). He is also the inventor of pedagogical materials for each of these approaches, and the author of more than 120 books and hundreds of articles largely on the topics of education and human development.

Pedagogical Approach

Caleb Gattegno’s pedagogical approach is characterised by propositions based on the observation of human learning in many and varied situations. This is a description of three of these propositions.

Learning and Effort

Gattegno noticed that there is an “energy budget” for learning. Human beings have a highly developed sense of the economics of their own energy and are very sensitive to the cost involved in using it. It is therefore essential to teach in ways that are efficient in terms of the amount of energy spent by learners. To be able to mathematically determine whether one method was more efficient than another, he created a unit of measurement for the effort used to learn. He called this unit an ogden, and one can only say an ogden has been spent if the learning was done outside of ordinary functionings, and was retained. For example, learning one word in a foreign language costs one ogden, but if the word can not be recalled, the ogden has not truly been spent. Gattegno's teaching methods were designed to be economical with these ogdens, so that the most information can be recalled with the least effort.

Certain kinds of learning are very expensive in terms of energy or ogdens, while others are practically free. Memorization is a very expensive way to learn. The energy cost can be especially high when the content is of no particular interest to the learner. Memorizing dates in history, or major exports of foreign countries can fall into this area. But school is not the only place where this kind of learning is found. Learning somebody's name, or telephone number, is equally arbitrary. We have to use our own energy to make arbitrary facts like these stick in our memories. The “mental glue” necessary is expensive and this type of learning uses up a lot of energy.

Not only is this type of learning expensive, it is also very fragile. It is typically difficult to remember these kinds of facts. Even when we make great efforts, we do not always succeed. We often recognise a face without being able to remember the name of the person. Not to mention all that we have forgotten of what we learnt at school. We forget much of what we memorise very quickly.

However, there is another way of functioning, which Gattegno called retention. An example of retention is the reception of sensory images. When we look at something – a street, a film, a person, a fine view – photons move from what we are contemplating and enter our eyes to strike the retina. When we listen to something, we create auditory images in a parallel way. In these cases, energy enters from the outside and we have to use only a tiny amount of our own to retain it; the amount is so small we are not aware of any effort. Such images are easily acquired and remain for long periods. We all have experiences similar to these examples from Gattegno:

First experience, "I recently visited a village in the south of France where I had not been for over 10 years and I was able to say, 'Oh, yes, I know. The pharmacy is over there beyond the baker’s.' I went to see and there it was. I had made no effort to memorise this village square. It had entered my mind during my previous visits and it had remained there."

Second experience, "I visit a supermarket and go down the aisles. I see an unexceptional woman with a trolley. Three aisles further on, I see her again. I have not tried to remember her, but I have seen her and I can recognise her again a little later."

This system of retention is extremely efficient. We keep in our minds a huge quantity of information simply because we have seen, heard, tasted, smelt or felt it. This ability is part of human nature. This is what enables us to walk about our town without getting lost, to ski or to read a book.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine