Post Salon Contentment

November 10, 2010

Back from the math salon and feeling great. I’ve been able to make some minor adjustments since the last one: I added a challenge problem, a group game after people have mostly arrived to break the ice, a little discussion of the relation of games to questions and math, and more written down to help people jump right into playing without me being there. I also explicitly encouraged kids to tell me about their innovations and variations on games. After I did, two kids ran up to me to show me their chess variations… and they (the variations) were awesome. (The kids were too.) I asked them to write them down for me so I can publish them here–hopefully I’ll get them soon!

The best thing I had going for me was Katherine, Math for Love’s newest addition, and an unbelievable asset (she’ll be properly introduced on the website soon). It was a packed house tonight, with more than twenty kids, many quite young, plus their parents. I might have been a bit overwhelmed without her. But with the two of us there, everything went smoothly, and seeing her in action was a pleasure. She relates phenomenally well to kids, drawing out shy children, offering just the right kind of challenge to confident ones. A parent emailed me afterward that her incredibly shy daughter, who hardly ever speaks to adults “could not stop talking about all she had done with Katherine.”

This is my third math salon since I borrowed the idea from Sue, and I see more and more potential in the format. Still, there’s a deeper question for me in all this: how can I help parents and students move from play to serious mathematics? I feel competent to help bridge the gap if I’m working with students myself, but how can I nudge parents toward an understanding of how mathematical understanding develops in children? It starts with play, then moves to questions, which, properly tended, can motivate real exploration and learning. There are lots of ways to seed all these stages, of course, and the math salons definitely encourage the beginning. I’d love to be able to send all these families home with a clear sense of where to go next, and how to use the games as the garden loam to nurture their family’s future development in math. Something to think on. My little course in nim (still being written) may be a good option. I’m probably going to be getting some math circles for K-2 students going soon, and I think I’ll be spending very direct time with the problem.

For now, though, I get to bask in the contentment of a math circle gone really, really well. The same parent who emailed also added:

“I want to just say one more time that you both have a wonderful energy for working with kids. I have seen lots of math workshops and I’ve never seen so much fun.”

If we can get kids having this much fun and connecting it to math, then we’re off to a good start.

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