The Real Value of Math Class: To Cultivate Creative Thinkers
By Jacqui Friedman
“I’m just not good at math!”
This was my mantra in middle school, as my math teacher frequently handed my algebra tests to me with a red C- slapped on the front page. From the beginning of my school years, I had labeled myself “not a math person,” as formulas danced in my head without making any sense. It wasn’t until years later, when I arrived as a teacher at Success Academy, that I understood that math was about so much more than following rules and remembering facts.
In his renowned piece “A Mathematician’s Lament,” Paul Lockhart states “mathematics is an art [and] the difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.” Lockhart argues that math, like other artistic disciplines, can unlock imagination and enable students to express themselves creatively, question the world around them, and discover truths of the universe. As a student performing artist myself, I would have laughed at this notion. Who could ever find freedom of expression and beauty in algebra?
At Success Academy, we believe that conceptual math can indeed inspire students to do their best, most creative thinking. Mathematics instruction that values ideas over procedures has the power to cultivate critical thinkers who can question and reason through any complex puzzle. While computation is important, it has to be in service of mathematical thought; what we care about is the quality of thinking and conceptualizing beyond the problem at hand. The purpose of learning math isn’t to take shortcuts to the right answer—it’s to unpack dazzling problems with curiosity and joy, generate original insights, and apply this strong reasoning and wonder to the world.
Across the country, so many kids are receiving a standard mathematics education and feeling the same way I did when I was a student—that math is an impenetrable world of procedures to imitate or a checklist of confusing formulas to follow. As a math teacher at Success Academy, you’re uniquely positioned to change hearts and minds about math and empower students to view math class as an opportunity to play and unbolt creative potential.
Join the Robertson Center this fall for our Real Value of Math Class series, where we’ll dive into the power of conceptual math and how to encourage strong, creative thinking in math classrooms. We hope you’ll walk away with a new perspective on math as a profound tool for thinking.