Everyone is born creative. And then somewhere down the line, many lose sight of it. In his classic Ted Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson says, “We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it…we’re educated out of it.” Innovation and creativity rank among the highest in the soft skills needed by today’s work force. And yet far too many of our students experience factory-model education rather than classrooms that inspire “original ideas that have value.” What can we do about this in our math classes?
Imagine yourself walking into a fourth-grade classroom. Take a snapshot of that very first moment…The children watch quietly as the teacher explains that today they are going to learn how to convert measurement units. In that moment, what do you notice? What are you wondering?
The first thing I wonder is, “Where is she going to go with this – direct instruction or inquiry?” This lesson may go in many directions…anywhere from mechanical arithmetic conversions to interpreting the classroom world through the lens of linear measurement. My hope is the latter – that she will invigorate her students by using creativity as means of engagement.
How might we bring a creative flair into our math classes? Here are three ways I’m seeing teachers making math more playful and relevant:
Noticing and Wondering
This approach encourages students to engage in question-posing and creative thinking. To get started, pose a problem and ask the students, “What do you notice…what do you wonder?” Students discuss/record their thoughts prior to further instruction. For our teacher above, she may write 1, 10, 100, 1000 on the board and ask her students to discuss and/or record what they notice and what they wonder about the relationships among these numbers. For a more detailed explanation of Noticing and Wondering, check out this two-page description from The Math Forum.
These tasks provide amazing opportunities for students to enter the problem-solving process from a high-interest, open-ended perspective. Each task begins with a video or a picture of something in the real world (related to your math goal), followed by a related math question. For a bank of terrific, free, ready-to-go, three-act tasks for grades K-8, check out Graham Fletcher’s or Robert Kaplinsky’s The originator of Three-Act Tasks, Dan Meyer, also provides a rich library of middle- and high-school tasks.
Write Me a Story
This strategy allows students to pull math into contexts of their own. Begin by posting a true equation, and have the students write a story that includes each term in the equation as well as the operational action(s). For example, you may post the headline “13 x 100 = 1300” and ask your students to write a story that includes all of these terms and the action of multiplication. Students will write from a variety of contexts, reacquainting themselves with the behavior of multiplication. In the case of our example above, the teacher could lean into a student’s story to shift the class’s thinking toward metric unit conversion.
What are your thoughts about using math class to nurture creativity? Please share your ideas by leaving a comment below.