Math Time!

My DBER journal club recently read “A Mathematician’s Lament.” While I couldn’t attend the actual discussion, I really enjoyed the essay. The gist is that math is practical, but it can also be a creative art form, and this is completely ignored in the vast majority of K-12 math classes. Kids have no exposure to math as play beyond gamified drills of arithmetic facts. Working mathematicians on the other hand don’t just know a whole bunch of definitions and algorithms–They actively create and try to see a beautiful abstract world in ways no one has before. Mathematicians have a lot more in common with painters and sculptors than they do accountants or even engineers.

While reading the essay it occurred to me that this is exactly what the Math Club at my daughters’ elementary school brings to the table. Tom and I present new concepts and problems, and we let the kids play with them. The journey and the attitude is way more important than getting to the solution.

Playing with math is a pretty common activity in my home too (see Potty Math), and over the last year the best example is something we call Math Time. Several times a day one of us will spontaneously yell out “Math time!” Everyone else stops what they are doing to stare at the (digital) clock to see how the time can be turned into an equation.

At the beginning, the equations involved simply addition and subtraction:

3:12 → 3 = 1 + 2 or 3 - 1 = 2

Then we added multiplication and division:

12:34 → 12 = 3 x 4 or 12 / 3 = 4

These days it can get a little crazy:

3:29 → 32 = 9

or even better:

12:05 → 11:65 → 11 = 6 + 5

Whenever I think we’ve played it out, one of us comes up with a new variant. And when the math time well does eventually run dry, we will find something else because the math well will never run dry.