Sunday, June 22, 2014

Playing With Math: Another Review

Preview: Today I was interviewed by Sol Lederman for his Inspired by Math podcast series. He'll post it tomorrow. We had lots of fun talking about math and the book. He asked me what math is, and I got scared for a moment that I wouldn't have anything much to say. I got over that hump.

Review: Holly  Brown heard about Playing With Math on the Living Math Forum email list. Her review of the book follows:
"Playing With Math" came along at a very fortuitous moment for me.  I'm a homeschooling mom (teaching my 11yo, 9yo & 5yo, boys) who also happens to be a certified math teacher with classroom & tutoring experience. I've just moved to a new town and was thinking about starting up math circles in my home as a way to jump-start math learning for my boys. When I began homeschooling years ago, I thought I had to find the "best, right curriculum" for my son to achieve math mastery. I've been moving away from that idea slowly but surely over the years (with help from the Living Math group and especially Julie Brennan's posts).  I have taken a lot from the Charlotte Mason methodology as I've implemented my boys' education, and feel like a "Playing With Math" or Living Math approach is the right way to go. Now, to unlearn my "teacherly" ways, and relearn how to let the kids and math lead the learning! This book is the ideal place to start.

I would highly recommend the book Playing With Math to any parent, teacher, or homeschooler, as it offers a new way to look at math and how your child/student would benefit from a completely different approach to math.  This book is filled with inspirational stories from parents, teachers, and homeschoolers, all of which are unique, but convey the same message: we must release our fear that children can't/won't learn math unless it's drilled into them in the "right" order, with the right "curriculum," and embrace exploring math in a totally new way, with the excitement of seeing the beauty in and having FUN with math. Playing With Math also provides a number of math problems, activities and games to get you started right away. Want more? There's also an abundance of references to a variety of other inspiring books as resources. One suggestion might be to add an appendix to the book, listing these amazing resources, categorized by age/grade appropriateness.

As a homeschooling mom, this book gives me the comfort of knowing that I DO have the freedom to take my time with math, and allow my kids to learn it at their own pace, and from any level of interest (even if that means talking infinity with my 9yo!). Even though I've been homeschooling for a long time now, it does take a while to learn to trust in your kids' ability to learn, and your ability to teach as a mentor or guide, not a "teller" or "explainer."

As a teacher who is not currently in a classroom, but is still tutoring in math, one quote in particular really struck me, from Maria Droujkova: "Adults often strive very hard to get rid of any and all possible traces of confusion for kids, making things dreadfully boring. That prevents kids from developing problem solving skills and other tools for mathematical decision-making." I saw myself in this quote, and quite agree with it. Taking it one step further, I would say that, for myself, this can be an aspect of teacher ego rearing its head. I feel like, if I haven't completely, "correctly" explained a concept until the student confirms they "get" my way, then I haven't really done my job. This puts the onus and reward on the teacher, when really, the student is the one doing the learning. The more a student discovers or explores on their own, the more permanent that learning experience will be. To be fair, as a tutor, I'm often working within time and goal restraints, usually within the context of a system that does not allow for math fun and exploration. (For example, finishing a course so the student can "move on" or "finish up" high school math, or prepping for the SAT which has so much at stake for these kids.) Without quite understanding why, I have been dissatisfied for  a while with the limitations of hourly tutoring, which I think is why I have been pondering the idea of doing Math Circles. What fun to be able to explore math with students in an open environment, having no requirements or limitations other than our interest and potential!

One final note. This book is all about math, but the fundamental ideas underpinning it are applicable to learning in any subject, and for students of all ages. If looked at from this perspective, you can take away so much more, especially if you are interested in ideas about learning and education. I hope this book accomplishes all the goals the authors have for it, and more: to inspire people everywhere to see the beauty and joy inherent in math and in playing and puzzling with math ideas by starting their own groups, supplementing their child's education, or even taking their students'/children's whole math experience in a completely new direction.