Math and #creativity: at odds with each other, mutually exclusive? Or actually capable of bolstering understanding together? Generally speaking, people understand that art and music can be “explained” with math, that harmonies can be depicted as wavelengths, that color can be explained through light etc.
What about taking the opposite tack? The unexpected bottom line with the first article cited here is that encouraging creative thinking in the math classroom can bring out passion, involvement and understanding.
How about the other side? Those students who feel that they just “aren’t a math person”? This excellent article discusses, among many other things, two main tenets: that ‘believing’ you aren’t a math person re-enforces that reality. The other being the idea that the process of learning math can literally change the brain.
In math #education, said Hill, creativity is defined as “kids having their own ideas about how mathematics works and being able to work to verify that those ideas are correct.” As it turns out, she noted, these are the same traits that are recognized and celebrated in advanced mathematics. When elementary teachers encourage students to ask questions, make observations, and tackle problems in inventive ways, they create an environment that supports creative mathematical thinking.
Encourage Students to Question and Observe
“Asking mathematical questions is a form of creativity,” said Hill. Kids love to figure out how things work, so when teachers present a new concept, they should also build in time for students to make observations and ask questions. James uses prompts such as, “What do you notice about this [shape, number, story, or design]?” or “How else could we use [addition, graphing, or sorting] in the classroom?” to help students build these habits.
Pose Open-Ended Questions
Teachers can make a habit of posing inventive questions, said Hill — even something as simple as “How can we figure out whether to buy chocolate or vanilla ice cream for the class party?” The trick is letting kids decide for themselves how to figure out a solution. The teacher’s job, said Hill, is to make sure students have the tools they need to solve the problem and to ask clarifying questions during the problem-solving process. James said that when she poses questions that require “struggle and creative thinking instead of rote application of rules,” students are not only more engaged, she is also better able to assess their understanding of key concepts by observing in real time how they apply their math skills.
“There’s a widespread myth that some people are math people and some people are not,” Boaler told a group of parents and educators gathered at the 2015 Innovative Learning Conference. “But it turns out there’s no such thing as a math brain.” Unfortunately, many parents, teachers and students believe this myth and it holds them up every day in their math learning.
Neuroscience research is now showing a strong connection between the attitudes and beliefs students hold about themselves and their academic performance. That’s a departure from the long-held traditional view that academic success is based only on the quality of the teacher and curriculum. But researchers like Carol Dweck, Camille Farrington and David Yeager have shown repeatedly that small interventions to change attitudes about learning can have an outsized effect on performance.