Tuesday, August 2, 2016

#MathPlayDate Collaborative Recreational Math

I love doing math. Playing with a good problem, getting stuck, trying a new direction, seeing a pattern and testing it out, exploring a question I just thought up, and seeing the connections inherent in everything. It's inspiring and gives me so much energy!

I'm also very social. I have the most fun when I'm with other people. On those personality tests that include the extrovert/introvert scale, I often score as extroverted as is possible. Math is a field that is often thought of as very solitary. Some people really like to have time to work on their own and then only share their thinking later. I most enjoy exploring math concepts in the synergy of collaboration.

In college I did many of my proofs in the math lab. Working on the full wall white boards and sharing our thoughts were large parts of my experience. Hearing other people's ideas inspired me to think in new directions.

There are fewer opportunities as an adult to do interesting math problems together in community. A couple of summers ago I participated in a MOOC called Math is Personal put on by Justin Lanier, @j_lanier. He gave us writing prompts that got us thinking about our own mathematical autobiography which were quite interesting, but even more than that, he gave us lots of problems to explore with an encouragement to work together if that felt inspiring. I did some super fun modeling with Andy Pethan, @rockychat3. A couple of years ago Tina Cardone @crstn85 and a handful of others had some #mathplaydates. We gathered on a Google Hangout on a Saturday morning to work on some problems together. It often seemed to lead to collaborative spreadsheets.

I've enjoyed playing with the PCMI and Exeter Math this summer. Last Saturday I hosted a Google Hangout to work on the PCMI Day 1 problems. There were four of us and it was so very fun. Shoutouts to @nathankraft1, @Dsrussosusan and @Dave_Sabol!

As teachers we often see our own learning and exploration only through the eyes of our students. "How could I use this in the classroom?" Although this is always in the back of my mind, I enjoy recreational math for me. When I'm curious and inspired with my own interests, I am a better teacher. Relationships are important and for me the joy of doing problems comes through those connections.

Who wants to play?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Preserving Curiosity

Today I read an article that got me thinking about my very early educational philosophy. This New York Times piece explains research on the way that babies are innately curious and spend most of their time working to figure out the world. Anyone who has watched a small child learn to walk knows that direct instruction isn't particularly useful. "Just balance more on your left leg!" They see many of us doing this thing that feels appealing, and work hard to practice the process, improving their attempts along the way. We don't generally spend a lot of time giving "lessons" to babies.

I wonder what we can learn from inspiring that youthful curiosity that can last later into life. How can we encourage wonder in elementary school? In what ways can we encourage kids to continue questioning and finding ways to answer their own questions?   Justin Lanier called it the "Mathematical Give a Damn."

I was homeschooled throughout most of elementary school. Many people ask me "who taught you, your mom or your dad?" They both certainly helped to answer my questions, but really neither of them "taught me" in the traditional sense. I went to the library a lot. We had lots of friends who did interesting things. I read a ton. I made stuff. I created lots of games. I sorted and organized things. I spent time outside. In general, no one told me that my curiosity was anything but magical and useful.

Now, I work in a school setting--a pretty awesome alternative school setting, but a formal school certainly. I often think about how to reconcile my inquiry-based background with the rigors and structure of an institution.

What can we all do (with our own kids or with young students) to ensure that we are not the ones asking all of the questions? How can we give space for curiosity and wonder? Encourage the asking and the finding out together!