Teachers Working at Play

By Lybrya Kebreab posted 07-02-2018 16:10


"Galileo Galilei once said: 'Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.' Too bad most schools are awful at helping us become fluent in Universe." Math-Explorable Explanations

In a dream world of some maths teachers, students could play mathematics for its own sake, with childish whimsy of heart, and explore countless possibilities for discovery in our universe. Unfortunately, many of the established systems in education impede this dream from becoming a reality in classrooms. In truth, accountability is necessary due to maths’ unique potential to propel or squelch students’ future educational and career endeavors. Therefore, it behooves the dreamer teacher to intentionally work at finding a balance of the ideal with the realities of 21st century instruction. This post examines consistently observable qualities of teachers who aspire to create and inspire open, creative, joyful mathematics play in their classes.

To start, teachers in productively playful rooms are math-loving dreamers. They understand that play is essential to the extraordinary teaching they seek to attain. With intent, they reserve physical and mental space for math play in their own lives on a regular basis, i.e. Math Teacher Circles, puzzles and riddles, extension courses through universities and private institutions, etc. At their core, they teach math because it is unimaginable to live in a world without the joy that comes from continuous discovery of new maths concepts, and they equally enjoy being part of students’ journey in the like. There is an intense tug on the heart to pour out all the love for mathematics they experience daily. The joyful, dreamer maths teacher reinforces, in both verbal and nonverbal cues, the notion that ALL ideas are valid along the road to discovery in an effort to support the mathematical dreams of students. Therefore, they intentionally provide intellectual and emotional safety for students daily by way of open visual maths tasks and class discussions respectful of diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Next, teachers in safe-to-play classrooms invite everyone to join the fun, come as you are. Meaning, these teachers love their students at exactly this point in their maths learning development. One can clearly see the space made for the development passionate mathematicians by providing play tables, stations, and digital applications that foster curiosity and self-efficacy in students. To display this love, tables and stations are filled with games or unique puzzles that are specifically themed or purposed to pique the interests of individual or small groups of students because time has been taken to investigate students’ personal preferences. Furthermore, digital applications are well-planned, mathematically rigorous experiences where technology enhances opportunities for critical thinking. The teacher who loves to play in maths class wisely uses emotional and mental energy to make connections between the goals/expectations of the standards and ideas that spark curiosity in pupils.

Finally, lesson plans for this space are not simply a calendar with pages numbers and tests scheduled on dates throughout the year. Teachers in playful classrooms inseparably connect the “why” both of their goals and, more importantly, the invention of the maths they teach. Fun, aesthetic, joy and beauty, qualities found to be innate to mathematics, are at the heart of lesson preparation. Priority is given to creating intellectually safe spaces where open tasks allow diverse brilliance to be respected, admired and valued by the classroom community. The instructor cares and probes deeply enough into individual students’ personalities to know what may be triggers to traumas that block a willingness to play with mathematics in class.

Please encourage, support and join the community of loving, mathematician dreamers as we regularly share the joy, beauty and fun of our glorious subject and profession!