Nov 122011

Just like the games we play, the fun in learning mathematics is in the challenge. In the post Math is not easy, I argued that we love a sport because of the challenge it presents, the opportunities it gives us to make prediction, analyze, strategize, make our stand and defend it, etc and not because it is easy to play! Learning math is like playing our favorite sport. I shared that post in Math, Math Education, and Culture community in LinkedIn and I got interesting comments and insights.

- Andrea Levy • If a game is too easy, it no longer is fun! That is why kids move on to more and more challenging games. Math is fun when it is challenging, but not overwhelming. Chess is a wonderful game because the rules are simple, but the game is more challenging when you play with people who are at, or within a certain range, of your own abilities. If you play with someone who is too far below you in understanding strategy then the game is boring. If you play with someone too far advanced, then the game is frustrating. Learning math is similar. Our challenge as teachers is to find a way to make math challenging without it feeling overwhelming. And yes it can be challenging and fun. Most students learn best through social interaction. We need to provide opportunities for students to struggle individually with an interesting problem, share with a small group their thinking and try to move forward in their understanding of the problem, and then share as a class the different processes and solutions. Then math can be challenging and interesting (fun.)
- Jeffrey Topp • I think the problem is more fundamental than math, the challenge is getting students to look for challenges and see conquering those challenges as being fun because ultimately life is about finding out what we are made of. I have always been good in math but received poor grades in high school and didn’t learn anything until I realized that the challenge of solving difficult problems was actually fun. Once I realized that, everything fell into place.Math is a great venue to teach this concept because, frankly, thinking is challenging. As a country, though, we are getting lazy and rather than accepting that there are students who won’t spend the time thinking we change the material to require more memorizing, or process following. This hurts everybody.
- Sheldon Dan • I don’t know if math should be “easy,” but it should be understandable. I have taught developmental math at a community college in Memphis, and one of my goals is to help people understand a subject that many fear, especially my students who have not been in a math class in many years. Therefore, my concern is more for them to know why they are doing something as well as how to do it. “Fun” is not really a consideration, and I don’t think it should be. I think if the concepts can be taught in an interesting way, say by the use of manipulatives, that is a bonus, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are some things in math which will not be “fun” and they are still necessary in our classes.

More related insights in Can having fun and learning math coexist?