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Math Meets Fun

It’s no secret that if you want to get kids motivated to do something you need to either make it sweet or make it fun.


We aren’t huge on the bribe-with-a-donut tactic, but we are major proponents of injecting fun into activities like exercise, healthy eating and, of course, fundraising! One topic we have yet to cover is how to make math more enjoyable for kids by combining it with play and games.


That’s why our latest post is a Q&A with Math for Love founder, Daniel Finkel. Math for Love is an organization that is working to radically transform the way math is taught and learned. They provide curriculums, lesson plans, and plenty of games that involve puzzles, shapes, patterns, colors and even polka dots (who doesn't love polka dots?).


As Math for Love states, math is a love/hate relationship for many people. Which is why they strive to teach math in its whole context, from the technical details to the art, simplicity and even elegance of the numbers.


With the rise of STEM programs and the greater demand for our students to be well-rounded and able to comprehend both the arts and the mathematics, this is a prime time to take another look at the teaching of mathematics. This article is great for teachers, but it’s also a way for parents to be motivated to embrace math lessons in the home!


Dan__MG_1207_LRDaniel Finkel - A teacher of teachers and students

Hi Dan, please describe yourself for our readers!

I’m someone who’s had an interest in math and how it is learned since I was quite young. I taught math in a K-12 school right out of college, then went to graduate school in pure mathematics, thinking I’d pursue research. By my fourth or fifth year of graduate school, I started to become obsessed with the problem that would come to define my working life: mathematics is one of the most beautiful, life-changing subjects out there, but so many people have had uniformly negative experiences with it. How can we share the experience of math that lets people see it is worth loving?

What is Math for Love? 

Math for Love is a company I started with my wife, Katherine Cook; it is our attempt to transform how math is taught and learned. It is part math education consultancy, part curriculum producer, part math game company. That means we teach teachers about math, produce lesson plans, and design games.

Why is promoting math in schools so important, especially for today’s students?

Math is a subject that, for better or worse, acts as a gatekeeper. So for a lot of students, it’s just a hoop they need to jump through to get where they really want to go. But math is also a way of understanding the world and the structures and patterns that underpin how it works, and understanding it can actually help you understand how to solve all kinds of problems. I often tell people that knowing math can feel like cheating - it helps you win games, make complex things simple, and take control of what seems impossible to control - random events, for example.

Our curriculum is based on the idea that approaching math through play is more engaging and more rigorous than a typical curriculum. We use lots of hands-on explorations and games - including Prime Climb and Tiny Polka Dot, the games we created - to get kids engaged, asking deeper questions, and building more substantial understanding.

How can parents help promote math skills at home?

The simplest, best way to go is to play games with your kids at home. Almost every game involves mathematical thinking, even if its just in keeping score, or thinking ahead: the “if I make this move, you’ll make that move” logical/imaginative inference is exactly the kind of reasoning you need for mathematics. Some games are especially mathematical… I’ll put another plug in for our games, Prime Climb and Tiny Polka Dot, here as well ;) 

What are other ways that the PTO/PTA can promote a love of math in their schools?

Host math nights & festivals, and support teachers who are expanding their practice!

Any other info/advice you would like to give to our readers?

We created this “Guide for Grownups” when we produced our second game, Tiny Polka Dot. I think it gives just the right kind of advice for how to approach math with your kids.

Like Dan says, math can be promoted in the classroom, at home, and through the PTO/PTA. Host math nights, math festivals, or even do a Math-Athon for your annual fundraiser! We will be providing more tips on how to put on these events in the future, but, for now, we want to know: How do you promote math for the kids/students in your life?