Creativity and Math

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Creativity and Math

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Sir Ken Robinson said, discussing creativity, “I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. But if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

It is an inspiring speech. You can also read Sir Ken’s book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

In Sir Ken’s discussion, he talks about creativity, art, education, and originality. In the context of education, he says that creativity is as important as literacy. Why, he asks, do we all teach math every day, but not dance?

Maybe you agree. And maybe you still have to teach math tomorrow. If so, I have some very creative lessons for you to check out. These all involve data analysis and probability:

  • Math is Fun has a variety of online games and tools for probability
  • The Worry Reducer is a fun and funny way to approach probability.
  • Probability Puzzles includes links to more classics, as well as an interesting introductory discussion on probability.
  • Probability brain teasers in this collection are brief and open-ended. There are hints, and full mathematical explanations for each, but the questions are very suited to opening board work or discussing around the dinner table.
  • Maths Zone has a fine collection of interactive games on handling data.
  • There used to be an Australian website on the subject of probability. They’ve gone, but I still remember a very good question they asked: “What message is being given about the importance of understanding probability when a large proportion of the problems in our books are about cards and dice?”  In fact, understanding probability and data is one of the math skills which can be most useful in daily life. Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, by John Allen Paulos, are two very good books that bring statistics, data analysis, and creative thinking together.
  • No dice here! This Fast Food Lesson involves data analysis as we actually use it in real life — that is, as a way to make decisions about difficult questions. You might use this lesson with a Two Sides to Every Question Book, as described yesterday.
  • I use Tristan Miller’s essay, “Why I Will Never Have a Girlfriend” every year in my writing classes when we discuss the use of statistics and logical argumentation in support of a thesis. It’s always a hit. I put it on the projector, but there’s also a printable PDF version.

We can approach math — in these examples it’s probability, but it could be any math topic — as something fun, something where there’s more than one way to think about the question, something that is stimulating to discuss. Something that isn’t only about finding the right answer.

In the real world, science and math are both very creative endeavors. Let’s let Sir Ken inspire us to bring that creativity back to the classroom.

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