Re-Awakening Wonder in Elementary Math

Guest Author: Leslie Waite, RVS Assistant Principal – “Math isn’t a creative subject!” was a typical reaction to the topic of my Master’s Thesis. Most associate creativity with the arts, not with mathematics. So, what is mathematical creativity? Simply put, the process of creation implies the coming together of two or more ideas, which are then mixed and remixed into something new. So, it is taking what is known about a concept, adding in new information and creating a new understanding of the concept; experiencing an idea and comparing what is known with what is being discovered. Students are overwriting their understanding and making sense of mathematics in new ways. It’s the “oh, I get it” moments.

Here are some of my findings:boy-idea_s

Ah-ha #1: A personal connection to the context of a problem makes the concept “stickier”. Background knowledge and the ability to put oneself in the context are very important if we want our students to remember a mathematical idea.

Ah-ha #2: We need to give our students permission to not yet understand and to think divergently. For whatever reason, many students feel they have to know the math before we even begin investigating the ideas. We must foster the idea that strategies have to make sense to the learner, if these strategies are going to be of any use.

Ah-ha #3: We need to develop their tolerance for ambiguity and frustration, as well as their ability to persevere. Students need to understand that sometimes an answer will not come easily. Sometimes we have to mull things over and revisit ideas in order to make sense of them. “I don’t know yet” is a phrase we need to hear more often when working in math.

Ah-ha #4: Students need to believe they are mathematical and that each of them has a unique way of learning mathematics.

Final thoughts about creativity from my students:

“I’m creative in math when I find a way to do math that makes sense to me.”

“It’s when your brain thinks and how your brain puts ideas together.”

“When you don’t know what it is before and then when someone explains it to you…you just get it” They don’t give you the answers. They just help you think about it.”

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