I am not a Math person.
I have never been good at Math.
Math is too hard for me, I can only do the basics.
Have you ever said this? Have your kids ever said this?
I felt this way. I was a “good student”, and I did ok with Math, but it was a struggle for me. I had to put in a lot of effort when it came to Math class, and the concepts usually seemed to out of reach for me to fully understand. They seemed to be just operations to memorize and perform, but not something I saw applied in my life. Give me history, an essay or a humanities topic any day instead.
As a homeschooling mom Math was the subject I worried about. If I am not a “math person”, how was I going to continue with math education for my children as they get to older ages? If I have no belief in my math skills, how could I show my kids that they could? (It’s what you do, not what you say)
My homeschool journey has slowly changed this for me.
Becoming a parent that sees the benefit in freedom to play and learn, with no hard formalities in the process has been awakening. I started to see that we are all homeschoolers. I am just as much the student as my children. With curiosity, and engagement we are all learning what we want to know more about.
For me the poetry of Math is unfolding.
This week I had the privilege of attending a talk with my mother in law and another teacher from her school. We drove an hour to see James Tanton, a Mathematician that is passionate about what he does, talks with absolute excitement, lives in his creativity and surrounds himself with expression.
James Tanton describes his journey and work as mathematical play.
He stresses the importance of play and exploration in life, learning, and specifically in Math. “The nature of play – that is, intellectual exploration, intellectual curiosity, the pursuit of wanting to know – is innate to our true human selves.”
He himself loved playing with math as a child in his room – looking for patterns and geometric designs in the ceiling, inventing games and puzzles – but found no joy in the math classroom at school. He always wanted to know the “why” in math but in class this was often met with being told to just accept that it is true, and to move on to the next question. He did not find the “joy and liberation” in math until a certain class in university. He later went on to become a high school math teacher and now researcher and global educator. He does this because of his love of math, and because he believes math is accessible to all.
Math education is changing. We hear about the Common Core changes in the US, and in Alberta there is a change in curriculum as well. Some people are happy with the change, others of course are not. What I appreciate is that educators are working towards change and keeping progressive.
Change has to happen, especially in education. Do we realize how quickly the world, primarily because of technology is changing around us? Life today for our children is nothing like how it was when we were young. Why would we keep educating our children in a style and with ideas that served a different society?
Math research, exploration and discovery is a big driver in the fast changes. Listening to James Tanton I realized that the mathematicians that are driving the fast changes are those that are the creative thinkers, and problem solvers. The mathematical thinkers, not the rote doers.
That is where math is moving, and that is where I am finding the beauty and poetry in math. In the past, as Mr. Tanton points out, math was focused on the skill and what questions. His work is to help us “find the wiggle room within the rigid system to begin to ask “why, “ “what if” and human questions”.
Why is that important?
Soon we will be visiting Mars. Who do you think is going to get us there?
Check out the Lesson – Exploding Dots
Other great sites for math creativity and problem solving that we love: