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    • Welcome to all of our panelists and to  everyone who’s following the conversation on Cake.  Our panelists have a passion for recreational mathematics and by the end of this panel I hope you do as well.

      Before we begin, I should remind everyone of an interesting twist to our conversation:

      Due to our panelists being in London, Toronto and Australia, we are extending the timeframe for panel responses from Saturday morning in Australia (GMT+11) to Saturday afternoon in Chicago (GMT-6).

      To avoid missing out on any of the conversation, please make sure to click the blue FOLLOW button at the top of this thread.

      So let’s get started. I asked our panelists to share their thoughts on the question of

      How do you make maths fun?

      Panelists before you dive into this question, please first share a bit about your background and why you’re passionate about maths.

    • Hi everyone - very nice to be involved in this panel!

      About me first: My name is Dan Finkel. I'm the founder of Math for Love, an organization devoted to transforming how math is taught and learned. I've been working for years to create opportunities for beautiful and powerful math experiences in and out of the classroom. That work includes writing curriculum, creating math games (Prime Climb and Tiny Polka Dot), teaching teachers, giving talks, and writing math puzzles for places like the New York Times Numberplay blog and as TED-Ed Riddles.

      So, to the question. How do you make math(s) fun?

      Part of me wants to say you don't have to make mathematics fun, because it already is. Or rather, it can be fun. It can also be frustrating, illuminating, elegant, baffling, challenging, and addictive. The question probably needs to be "how do you make SCHOOL math(s) fun?" Or possibly, "how do you make school math(s) meaningful and motivated?" And a typical answer to that is you make it more like real mathematics.

      But I'm not sure that's sufficient as an answer. It's feeling like there's something new that's happening in mathematics education, and it has to do with crafting experiences that are more likely to be engaging, more likely to be playful, and more likely to be social. Even if these existed occasionally, making them more ubiquitous actually changes how people experience the subject.

      When people are young (say, 2 - 8), mathematics tends to be a source of joy. Kids seem to be drawn to ideas about number, shape, pattern, and structure in a similar way they are drawn to language. They learn through experimentation, play, and repetition, and the exposure to mathematical ideas is fundamentally empowering. I think we need to create frameworks that imitate how young kids are drawn into mathematical thinking. Mine looks like this:

      1. Spark their curiosity. Get them engaged in an irresistible mystery. This means letting questions hang in the air without answers.

      2. Support their productive struggle. People learn by trying to make sense of things that aren't obvious. This can be frustrating, but we need to let the struggle belong to the student. If we take it from them, we take the satisfaction and joy as well.

      3. Let students own the experience. A chance to reflect or share can let students see what they've done, and how far they've come. If we're just concerned about them having the right answer, we communicate that they're understanding and ownership isn't what's important. So we really have to give them space to take ownership of the process and the ideas that come from it.

      One very important thing to note is that play supports all of this. For mathematics, play is the engine of learning. When you're in a playful state, you're more likely to be open to curiosity, more likely to struggle, and more likely to feel a sense of ownership.

      So for parents as well as teachers, and especially for primary grades, I'd say the most vital advice is to play with mathematics. Playing games is great. Playing with blocks is crucial, especially for young children, since there's a physical intuition that gets built that ends up providing fundamental analogies for mathematics. Just living with questions and providing a space for questions to live is very powerful.

      The second thing I'd suggest is to change your fundamental question from "do you know the answer?" to "how are you thinking about this?" Worry less is your kid has reached whatever bar you think they need to reach. Instead, let yourself be curious about what's actually happening in their mind. Mathematics has been called supercharged common sense. If we teach people to ignore their intuition and follow nonsensical steps to arrive at answers, we're doing a deep disservice to them, and damaging their foundation for mathematical thinking long term. Don't be answer-driven. Be sense-driven.

      Will all this make mathematics fun? Sometimes it will. But hopefully the real shift is in letting mathematics be playful, challenging, empowering, meaningful, and motivated.

    • Dan, a lot of great insights here for parents wanting to eliminate “I hate maths!” from their child’s mindset as well as for educators wanting to create more engaging classrooms. Thank you.

      I know this is a little off-topic, but I noticed that you used a Kickstarter campaign to launch Prime Climb. Do you think you’d go that route with your next game?

    • I think so. We ran a Kickstarter campaign for Tiny Polka Dot as well. It's a lot of work, but it has the advantage that you can gauge people's interest right away, and get enough pre-orders to finance a first printing of a new game. If you put something out there and no one is interested, it's nice to know that before you spend tens of thousands of dollars printing up tons of copies.

    • There’s a problem solving conversation going on at Cake right now about determining the problems you shouldn’t invest your time trying to solve. Your use of Kickstarter campaign feedback sounds like a great approach for determining which problems (or opportunities) are worth pursuing.

      Getting back to your initial statement, I wanted to ask one more question.

      About playing with blocks.

      Playing games is great. Playing with blocks is crucial, especially for young children, since there's a physical intuition that gets built that ends up providing fundamental analogies for mathematics.

      My two year old grandson loves playing with blocks. Mostly, he likes telling me to build towers so that he can knock them all down and laugh about it. But sometimes he will start counting them as best he can. Any suggestions of games or activities to try with him during the next year? I thought of this game but I think it’s a few year’s off before he can compete with our third panelist’s daughter.

    • Hello Everyone!

      I thought I would chime in before I go off to bed here in Toronto...:)

      So, my name is Sunil Singh, and I feel that my math life has had many incarnations/twists. So much so, that I believe the universe has my "GPS"...

      I was a math, physics, and occasional English teacher for 20 years. In 2013, I quit. I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I was damn sure as what I didn't want to do--that was to teach a math curriculum that had little resonance with my heart. Quitting was not a popular choice among any of my friends or family members. But, I did it not just for me, but for my kids--an unhappy person usually develops an unhealthy body, mind, and spirit. This can lead to, without exaggeration, serious illnesses.

      I quit to find happiness.

      In 2014, I decided to create a math store/lounge/after-school program just north of Toronto. I had secured 5000 sq. ft in a beautiful, historic area called Unionville--The Right Angle was going to be right beside a chocolate store!

      This was the window display during Xmas 2014. As you can see by the ceiling, things were still being built, but I wanted people to have an idea of what was going to happen in Spring of 2015...

    • I lost everything. At the age of 50, that is not what I imagined from my life. That fire turned out to be a midwife to everything that has happened to me since. From the ashes of the building, I found a strange muse to start to pen "Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics". After that, other things began to take shape. Dan Finkel introduced me to Gary Antonick, Editor for Numberplay Blog in The New York Times. I became a writer there. I started to export the ideas of The Right Angle into Family Math Nights. I even did a few nights at The Museum of Mathematics. I know travel all over North America speaking and doing workshops with teachers and students on the mathematics that I love. My next book, "Math Recess: Creating Creative Curriculum in The Age of Disruption" comes out in 2019, and is a philosophical challenge in making...math(s) fun:)

      Like Dan, I already think math is fun, but there is a huge gulf between how fun math can be and how fun it really is in school right now. One of the things that first needs to be addressed in making it fun is allow conditions for "fun".

      Students--and teachers--need space and time to dabble in math. I am not sure why we feel everything needs closure after 45 minutes everyday. Why can't we give problems that stretch out for longer periods of inquiry--just like in the real world of mathematics. Solutions are punctuation marks. We need more emphasis on the "drafts", the shards of thoughts, coherent or not, by students...

    • Why can't we give problems that stretch out for longer periods of inquiry--just like in the real world of mathematics. Solutions are punctuation marks. We need more emphasis on the "drafts", the shards of thoughts, coherent or not, by students

      This is one of Sunil’s problems that I spent over four hours and multiple “drafts” attempting to solve.

    • A nice place to look for ideas is on Christopher Danielson's website, Talking Math with Your Kids. For kids that young, one of the most important things is not to rush it; make sure the kid is having fun, and has a rich environment to explore. The hashtag #tmwyk (tell me what you know) is a good one to see how people listen to kids. And listening and playing are the first steps for sure.

      I do sometimes use two questions to help dig a little deeper into mathematical thinking with young kids, and they are "How many?" and "What if?" How many is really one of several questions that can draw kids attention to ideas of number and magnitude. How many blocks are there? Which is bigger, that tower or that tower? Who is smaller, me or you? There's a lot of richness there.

      What if is even more flexible. There's an opening to experiment here: as in, what if we tried to build that shape using only the red blocks? Could we do it? What if I moved as quickly as I can? Could I go faster than you?

      You can also narrate your own thoughts out loud as you try out these questions yourself. The key is to avoid being pedantic and explaining. Set yourself up as a listener. And avoid asking yourself, "Is my child where they need to be?" Instead, ask, "How is my child thinking?"

    • Responding to Sunil now, I agree on the need to dabble. It's interesting, because I think there's an ethical reason, especially when it comes to equity, to use class time really thoughtfully and effectively. And yet, if you want people to build their perseverance, you need to give them time to struggle (productively, ideally), because that's what it takes to improve. Perseverance is a muscle, and if there's no time to persevere, we never get better at it.

    • As for my background, I'm a primary school teacher and I'm very proud to work with some inspirational educators in the north of England. I have taught thousands of children in hundreds of schools. I love being in the classroom and I also like developing innovative edtech content to make students lesson more engaging.

      apm wrote this wonderful bio about me, it is probably the most flattering thing I have ever read.

      "For those not involved in the maths education universe on Twitter, Drew is an amazing mathematician, educator and recreational maths puzzle expert. He’s been involved in multiple online learning platforms including which he co-created, and Maths-Whizz. Drew’s recreational maths puzzles on Twitter are regularly enjoyed by maths educators and their students. He is a frequent presenter at maths conferences throughout the UK.

      I’ve been a big fan of Drew’s recreational maths since I discovered them this summer and am thrilled that he will be participating in Saturday’s panel on How do you make maths fun?

      The wonderful apm

    • The last chapter of "Math Recess" is called "Why Can't We Be Friends"...

      For me, how to make math(s) fun--remember, it is already fun--answers a deeper question for me. Why Should Math(s) Be Fun?...

      In the end, for me, teaching/sharing mathematics has a social endpoint--to connect with one another. Last time I checked, I didn't connect too deeply with anyone through memorizing math facts like half-angle formulas or the product rule. Life is too short to, pardon my language, piss away time, valuable class time, and not probe mathematics in a collective spirit of inquiry--to connect with each other:)

    • One of my favourite aspects of working in education is giving up my weekends and presenting at Grassroots Conferences.

      I would like to think my workshops are truly unique. My starting point is writing a session that I would love to attend. I don't have to support exam syllabuses or even worry if anyone turns up.

      I think the last conference I did I wanted to share Dan's Prime Climb with 40 teachers, Dan helped me out with some great ideas. I then changed my mind... I wanted 40 teachers to play Prime Climb. This still has an element of sense until you realise I'd already written a different workshop weeks before and I was going to scrap it and personally make 20 Prime Climb set with a couple of day before the conference.

    • Here is a problem that opens "Math Recess"...

      When I go into classrooms, the Birthday Puzzle, is one of the first ones I open with--for many reasons. Who isn't going to be intrigued by how a "stranger" is correctly guessing everyone's birthdays by some "box-pointing"...

      I show the image below on a screen. I then ask students to find their birthday date--day only(ie, 07, 23, 29, etc) on as many cards they can. Once they have done that, I ask them to tell me which ones they found their birthday on. In about a few seconds, I tell them their birthday...

      I do this in rapid fire succession, not even blinking to capture the astonishment/disbelief on the faces of the students.

      The natural question comes up--HOW are you doing this?

      I ask..."Do you REALLY want to know"?

      Because the response is organic and overwhelming, I don't just give them the superficial answer of looking at the top left binary numbers. I tell them how this works, and for them to construct their own cards!

      This also creates a rabbit hole into Base 2, and other great Base 2 problems, which in turn creates further rabbit holes of playing in different bases...

      And so on...

      We want to create the "So On's"...:)

    • You'll probably have noticed that I haven't mentioned how to make maths fun!

      Maths is fun! Every teacher I meet knows how to deliver fun maths lessons.

      Unfortunately teaching in England is driven by passing tests rather than educating children.

      English schoolchildren undergo a range of tests from the age of five to 18:

      * Age five: Teachers assess children's all-round development against Early Years Foundation Stage profile

      * Age seven: Key Stage One standard assessment tests assess pupils in the "Three Rs"

      * Age nine: Key Stage One standard assessment tests assess pupils in the "Three Rs"

      * Age 11: Key Stage Two sats tests pupils in English & Maths

      * Age 16: GCSEs test pupils, typically in eight to 12 subjects.

      * Age 17/18: AS and A Levels test pupils in three to six subjects.

      If a school fails to attain aggressive targets the school will be shamed and loose all its funding.

      This maybe wouldn't be all bad if the maths curriculum wasn't completely focused on the skill sets needed for success in the late 19th Century.

      Teachers do have the flexibility to teach great maths lessons once they have ticked these boxes.

    • Drew, we’ve talked privately about the incredible work you’ve done in making mathematics more engaging, fun and meaningful for your students. Could you talk about how edtech fits into this equation? Perhaps you could share a video of what this looks like in action.