The Joy and Wonder of Math


When I was a kid, math held zero joy or wonder for me. It was just another subject I had to get an ‘A’ in, a means to an end, really. I knew I needed it to go to college and therefore do well in life. My first memory of learning math is from 1st grade, my mom bringing home a large poster (very colorful, attractive) of the 2-12 times tables and tasking me with memorizing the damn thing. I started by staring at it. That didn’t work too well so Mom gave me sheets of paper and I started copying them. Pretty soon, I could recite the tables! One problem: I didn’t have one stinkin’ clue what any of it meant.

I don’t harbor any resentment towards my mom for this. Quite the opposite. She was just trying to make sure her kid knew basic math and would do well in school. But it is this story that reminds me of the importance of teaching math for understanding and inquiry, not just rote memorization. My math experiences in school were not far removed from how my mom asked me to learn math so it should come as no surprise that I thought math was lame. But as we learn more about teaching it, I am learning to love the content area I once loathed.

Last week, we saw ways to teach math that made clear the communicative nature of math and encouraged students to have fun, be creative, but also prove what they were saying, show and tell the thinking behind a mathematical statement. There was mathematizing a read aloud, and then there was finding math in an illustration. Even for me, an adult, both were engaging and lively. Now, I am seeing more concretely that math does not have to be a solitary activity based on pure memorization. We can teach the content for deep understanding, encourage inquiry, and still see the joy math can bring as a part of life and learning, not just another thing you have to do to get through school.