First, thank you from the bottom of my math-loving heart to Christopher Danielson for allowing me the privilege to be one of Math on a Stick’s visiting mathematicians and spend the day talking math with all of the kids. It never ceases to amaze me that when you bring in something mathematically simple and open ended how much creativity and wonder kids will bring to it. I mentioned this last year and the year before, and it is worth repeating today: We need to get out of the kids’ way.
The school year is about to start, and the standards will dominate our conversations as teachers. I don’t want to dismiss the importance of common national standards as a foundation to ensure that each and every student has access to important mathematical concepts. But, we secondary math teachers have a reputation as self-proclaimed masters of content knowledge which can be important. Still, I notice, we spend an awful lot of time making sure kids can expand a fourth degree binomial and not nearly enough time listening to the children make sense of ideas and letting them create and explore mathematically. Kids who can manipulate algebraic expressions fluently can do just that. (Perhaps they could use it to manipulate other algebraic expressions. Such joy.) On the other hand, students given opportunities to play with math have a chance to develop a deep understanding and love for mathematics. For my own child, I’d rather have an ounce of the former and seven tons of the latter.
Thank you Desmos for sponsoring the day (and the awesome shirt). Thanks to the Math Forum, Annie Fetter, Sara Vanderwerf, Ellen Delaney, the Minnesota State Fair Foundation, and all of the amazing people that have helped create this special corner of the fair where math isn’t scary or anxiety-inducing. There are no tests on math facts or multiplication charts to memorize. There are no lectures, nothing to practice. And it’s the highlight of the Minnesota State Fair for me every year.