Math Consulting: Games to Content, by way of Questions

October 28, 2011

We’ve been loving running math workshops for teachers. First of all, teachers are awesome: they’re some of the hardest working, most motivated people out there. They want to know as much math as they can, and they want to help their students learn it. So it’s a pleasure for us, as two mathematicians, to come in and discuss what’s possible in a math classroom.

The other day our workshops centered on (1) some of our favorite games for the classroom, and (2) the principle of asking questions as fundamental to the mathematical (and classroom) process. Asking questions is an art, but also a craft that can be practiced and honed. Asking questions gives you control over virtually every aspect of your learning experience. It’s perhaps one of the most critical skills a mathematician has; not only do mathematicians play to solve problems, they play with the rules themselves, with the parameters of problems. That’s a big part of the thrill.

We didn’t get much video, but I did get these two minutes of Katherine wrapping up an activity. She had just taught the teachers a game we call the Color Tile Game (though it’s also called Rainbow Logic), and was broaching the issue of how you can use questions to build a bridge from the game to all kinds of topics in mathematics (particularly combinations and permutations, in this example). Building this kind of bridge–from the introduction of a fun little game to a focused, rigorous, motivated mathematical experience–is one of the central questions that’s been on my own mind since I started thinking about math education in the first place. I think Katherine does a lovely job of relating and demonstration the explosion of questions and excitement that can follow when get kids building that bridge for you with their own, natural questions. (It’s so natural, in fact, that it came up in other places as well.)

It is just a brief slice, two minutes at the end of an hour, but hopefully the clip is clear. I’m still working on getting good footage of us at work. Let me know what you think.

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