The Da Vinci Curriculum

I mentioned briefly at the end of my last post that Alex and I had just started reading The Da Vinci Code together. I chose it originally because I thought Alex might tolerate a bit of maths, if I snuck it in at the appropriate points in the story, but it’s actually given us so much more than that.

We’re nearly a third of the way through the book currently (Langdon and Sophie have just discovered they can’t get into the American Embassy) and here are some of the things we’ve covered so far:

We did do the maths (hurrah!) – we learned about the Fibonacci sequence, and looked at some examples of where it’s found in the natural world. We learned about ratios, and about phi, and measured different parts of our bodies to see how close to perfect they are. In the book, the Fibonacci sequence first appears as an anagram, so we did a bit of that too, just for fun. We then wandered down a bit of a tangent into codes and cryptography (seeing as that’s Sophie’s job) and learned about various types of cyphers. I had quite a lot of fun writing coded messages for Alex to decipher in order to find their Easter eggs, and it kept them entertained for quite a lot of Easter Sunday too! The brilliant thing about all of this is that Alex doesn’t even realise they are doing maths – problem solving, pattern recognition, and we’ve even just started to look at frequency analysis in the context of cryptanalysis.

Sticking with the maths, we’ve really got into the code-breaking side of things, and having been inspired by an afternoon spent watching The Imitation Game we have got ourselves a Turing Tumble and started to look at early computing, and computational problem solving. I’m not sure Alex is totally convinced yet, but Gran and I are loving it!

Back to Da Vinci, and there’s plenty more to explore with the book. Ironically, one of the things that most irritated me about it when I first read the book has become one of my most helpful teaching aids – and that is Dan Brown’s tendency to go off on tangents about the history of the paintings and the symbology mentioned in the story. When it comes to books I’m a guzzler; I’m all about the story so I will speed-read and skim through til the end so I can find out what happens. Robert Langdon’s tendency to pause in the middle of running for his life to muse over a lecture he recently gave at Harvard broke up the storytelling for me, and felt like unnecessary obstacles in my quest to get to the end. However… as I’m reading out loud to Alex this time, I’m already forced to go more slowly, and I’m finding that these little side-stories are a great opportunity to delve a bit more into the background of the topic. Alex and I have looked up pictures of the Vitruvian Man, discussed religious history and how the modern church took over ancient symbology, festivals, and even music in order to convert the masses to Christianity (Alex was extremely unimpressed by that) and googled Madonna of the Rocks and Virgin of the Rocks to see the differences. We’ve talked about gender (Alex’s favourite topic) and about matriarchal and patriarchal societies. There’s a lot more to explore there as well – I’m going to dig my old psychology textbooks out of the loft as there’s some good stuff in there about cross-cultural studies of gender and different societal structures; I want to look more closely at the medieval witch hunts too, and Alex is fascinated by the parallels between paganism and Greek mythology.

The power of the Internet means that we can look up maps of Paris to see the route Langdon and Sophie would take to get to the American Embassy, and follow it ourselves on Google street view – we can even take a virtual tour of the Louvre and visit the Mona Lisa. We’re picking up little bits of French as the characters say the odd phrase, or we come across an interestingly-named road, or church, and we’re simultaneously broadening Alex’s English vocabulary as I can stop and check their understanding of the more sophisticated language as we read.

It’s been an interesting exercise for me as much as Alex, to explore learning in this way, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes us. In the meantime however, Alex woke up today with a yearning to bake, and as I type this I can hear them downstairs, wondering out loud how much blue food colouring they will need to add to their cookies to get the precise Percy-Jackson-esque shade they are after. I’m not sure I can remember the last time that Alex actively wanted to do anything other than watch videos of YouTube – even if we achieve nothing else, home ed is giving us back our engaged, interested, inquisitive, HAPPY child, who had got almost completely buried under the weight of the school system, and for that I am eternally grateful.