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Why Math Education Needs Puzzles

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Why Math Education Needs Puzzles

  1. 1. Why Math Education Needs Puzzles Scott Kim — Mar 30, 2012 – scottkim.com NOW WITH PUZZLES!Presented at the Gathering 4 Gardner (http://gathering4gardner.com)
  2. 2. I design mathematical puzzlesI am a puzzle designer, ambigram artist and math educator. http://scottkim.com
  3. 3. “Recreational math should be...regularly introduced as a way to interest young students in the wonders of mathematics.”Martin Gardner wrote a highly influential column called Mathematical Games in ScientificAmerican Magazine, from 1956 to 1981. By reporting on the playful inventions ofmathematicians all over the world, he single-handedly influenced several generations ofscience-loving kids to fall in love with math and pursue mathematical careers.
  4. 4. “Recreational math should be...regularly introduced as a way to interest young students in the wonders of mathematics.”In 1995 Gardner wrote an article advocating puzzles and mathematical magic tricks inclassrooms as a way to get kids interested in learning about math. But when he talked withteachers about this, he got stony silence.
  5. 5. Sugar or essential nutrition?So are puzzles in the classroom just a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down? Orare they something more important, an essential part of a complete mathematical diet?
  6. 6. Gabe meets algebraTo answer, I’ll tell you a story. My son Gabe is 13. He’s good at math.
  7. 7. Gabe meets algebraBut recently he’s run into his first mathematical stumbling block: algebra.
  8. 8. Gabe meets algebra Why?For the first time he’s seeing math that makes him panic, and ask in desperation “Why arewe learning this?” He’s drawing a blank, as are many of his classmates.
  9. 9. Gabe meets algebra Why? Algebra = Language of MathSo I asked his teacher “Why study algebra?” He answered “algebra is the language of math(and science). You need to understand algebra to understand higher math.
  10. 10. Gabe’s teacher is right. But there’s a problem. If algebra is the language of math...
  11. 11. Then why isn’t it taught in a meaningful context, like, say, the physics of roller coasters?
  12. 12. Math without meaningTeaching the mechanics of algebra without simultaneously exposing kids to meaningfulcontexts is like...
  13. 13. MusicTeaching music by drilling kids in notation and music theory without ever hearing a piece ofmusic. “Listening to music is for graduate students only.”
  14. 14. SportsOr teaching sports rules and plays without ever stepping onto a playing field. How manyathletes would sit still for that?
  15. 15. LanguageOr teaching grammar and spelling without ever exposing kids to books. That’s allbackwards — kids learn to read because they love books, not the other way around.
  16. 16. No meaning = No understandingTeaching mechanics without meaning results in students who feel anxious, guessrandomly, cling tightly rote procedures, and quickly forget what they have learned.
  17. 17. No meaning = No understanding AnxiousTeaching mechanics without meaning results in students who feel anxious, guessrandomly, cling tightly rote procedures, and quickly forget what they have learned.
  18. 18. No meaning = No understanding Anxious GuessingTeaching mechanics without meaning results in students who feel anxious, guessrandomly, cling tightly rote procedures, and quickly forget what they have learned.
  19. 19. No meaning = No understanding Anxious Guessing InflexibleTeaching mechanics without meaning results in students who feel anxious, guessrandomly, cling tightly rote procedures, and quickly forget what they have learned.
  20. 20. No meaning = No understanding Anxious Guessing Inflexible ForgottenTeaching mechanics without meaning results in students who feel anxious, guessrandomly, cling tightly rote procedures, and quickly forget what they have learned.
  21. 21. Solution: Grammar+LiteratureWhat should math teachers do instead? Take a cue from English teachers, and teach thegrammar of math alongside the literature of math.
  22. 22. Puzzles = literature of mathAnd the literature of math is...puzzles.By which I mean puzzles, games and other recreational mathematics activities.
  23. 23. Like kid’s picture booksPuzzles are analogous to kids picture books — an entertaining way to introduce young kidsto the joys of math without needing to understand abstract symbols.
  24. 24. Not just for kidsBut puzzles aren’t just for kids. Martin Gardner was the Shakespeare of puzzles,penning works of recreational mathematics that stir the imaginations of adults.
  25. 25. But teachers resist puzzlesUnfortunately merely giving puzzles to teachers fails miserably. When toy maker Thinkfunintroduced their Game Club classroom packs, a few teachers knew just how to use them.But most teachers balked. And for good reason: conventional curriculum does not supportpuzzles, and teachers raised on bad math education have trouble connecting puzzles andmath. There’s a vicious cycle: bad math education creates teachers, administrators, parentsand policy makers don’t understand math, which creates more bad math education.
  26. 26. So try a different approachTo get out of our rut, we need to take a different approach. Here are some currentapproaches to popularizing math that bypass traditional curriculum. From left to right wehave the Flatland movie (http://flatlandthemovie.com), Vi Hart’s viral math videos onYouTube (http://vihart.com), the Museum of Mathematics in New York City (http://momath.org), and Karl Schaffer’s dance performance The Daughters of Hypatia, celebratingwomen mathematicians through the ages (http://mathdance.org).
  27. 27. 1. Learning resourcesHere are some of the actions I plan to take to get puzzles into math education.1. Compile resources for teachers, listing puzzles for every mathematical topics.
  28. 28. 2. Weekly YouTube puzzle2. Start a puzzle puzzle channel on YouTube, where I post a puzzle of the week. The bestpart will be video responses where kids explain their solutions. Shown here is Vi Hart’sYouTube channel.
  29. 29. 3. Recreational math eBooks3. Produce recreational math books, eBooks and apps that present recreational math to ayounger audience using today’s interactive media.
  30. 30. 4. National puzzle competition4. Launch a national puzzle competition, that engages students of all levels in solving,presenting, and inventing mathematical puzzles. Two efforts that are already doing this arethe national Maths Week in Ireland (http://www.mathsweek.ie), and Math Fair out ofUniversity of Calgary, which features student-made puzzles presented in a science-fair-likesetting (http://mathfair.org).
  31. 31. Pass it onBy making recreational mathematics part of the math curriculum, we will stop the viciouscycle of math illiteracy, and passed on the legacy of Martin Gardner to the next generation.
  32. 32. Thank you scottkim.compinterest.com/scottekim/cool-math-education

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