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Mathematics, Creativity, Play and the Essence of Good Teaching

Last week Madeleine, one of my virtual friends who writes limericks, asked me if I would be celebrating Tau Day, June 28th. After watching this video, I think you will all agree that Tau Day is worth celebrating if only as a reminder that creativity is an essential element of education. Perhaps creativity is the essential element of education, (Would Sir Ken Robinson agree?), and play is at the heart of creativity.

Sure Pi=3.14159…, and it is useful to know how to calculate the circumference of a circle, but kids learn anything better when they experience it in the context of something real to them. You don’t really know it until you can turn it upside down, reverse it, negate it, and see what happens.

This is what is going on when we play with something. It seems frivolous because it doesn’t seem goal directed, but it is goal directed. The goal is brain development.

Moreover, children won’t really learn the language of mathematics if they don’t see it as something they can use to understand, shape and communicate about the real world. It has to have meaning.

As long as mathematics is taught as if it were remembering rules and learning procedures only, mathematics will continue to be a foreign language. If your teacher got you through math by teaching you little tricks and mnemonic devices, that is all she accomplished: She got you through math.

Mathematics is a language, a way of thinking, a set of disciplines that help us in the endless, infinitely challenging job of creating a life. We haven’t really learned Pi, until we can think about Tau, and have fun with it.

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5 Responses to “Mathematics, Creativity, Play and the Essence of Good Teaching”

  1. Susan Raisch June 30, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    I love this article. It made me want to go back to school and not be so negative about math. Math and fun. I never looked at it that way. I love your posts. They always make me look at things a different way!

  2. Lisa Bostwick June 30, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Besides being a stretch for the brain, it does seem that math unconnected from real application and real understanding runs the risk of turning kids off (if they struggle.) Boo. But you just said all that 🙂

    Lisa B
    Loving Blogging- harder than it looks !!

  3. Rick June 30, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Thank you both. Lisa, you’ll be great at it. It only takes 10,000 hours (according to Malcolm Gladwell’s research.)

  4. Lisa Bostwick July 1, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    10,000 hours oh that’s a relief.. 🙂
    one math anecdote- met a contractor last summer who always asked his kids (when they were young) to estimate distances- heights, widths of things- doors, miles to a neighbors house, how wide was this or that house, a window etc… talk about making numbers fun.

    And you probably posted this in the past: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_meyer_math_curriculum_makeover.html (about patient problem solving- excellent!)
    -Lb

  5. Madeleine Begun Kane August 1, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    You make a good point, as does that video.

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