What would you rather teach, math or creative thinking?
Do you see these as two different concepts or the same concept?
When I was school-aged I saw these as two very different concepts. Math was memorization, formulas and one dimensional algorithms. Give me a story problem like this: A carpenter can cut a log into 4 pieces along its length in 12 minutes. How long will it take him to cut a log into 8 pieces? And I would remove the numbers (as that is math) and then try and put them altogether to formulate an answer. I would also do this quickly because math was about speed (timed tests, first person with right answer, round the world math games). Getting the answer quickly meant you were good at math. There was no thinking in math, you either knew it or you didn’t, you were either good at math or you weren’t. I quickly assumed that I was not a math person.
I don’t believe that any more. What changed? How I started thinking about math. I started pondering, how can I get numbers to work for me? That meant I needed to think about numbers differently and get beyond the algorithms and formulas.
- Think of a picture; model or draw it out if need be
- Use common sense. Avoid dreary work (mathematicians work hard to avoid hard work).
- Engage in intellectual play and communication.
- Understanding trumps memorization (it is time we do away with timed tests and teach students how to think about number combinations).
- Learn to clarify what you don’t know.
Key points for teachers in preparing students:
- Reward innovation of thought – creative thinking – even if it isn’t correct, trying is learning.
- Allow students to ponder. Allow students to pause before leaping into action, allow them to rely on their wits. Encourage them to be math detectives.
- Help them see the big picture; make connections.
- Develop their intellectual agility (not meaning speed) Asking “why” and “what if”
- Engage in joyful play and be willing to allow kids to fail. It is okay not to know; it is not okay not to want to find out.
- No matter how rigid a curriculum there is always wiggle room for true mathematical/creative thinking experiences.
For both teachers and students, it is okay to admit you don’t know. Model how to figure something out. Pin down what it is you don’t know. Talk through trying to figure it out. It is okay to make mistakes, we learn from mistakes, use the insight about what doesn’t work to understand what does. Ask questions, consult resources. Respond to answers with personal skepticism – “do I really believe it to be true?” “Can’t these steps be applied to all subject matters?” “Isn’t this how we actually learn life skills?”
Research shows that the more time spent in math helps improve students reading scores and social skills.
Along with MANGO Math games and activities try out these forensic kits from Community Learning. These kits help students refine their creative thinking by using collaboration, deductive reasoning and analytical analysis to solve fun, challenging mysteries.