This week in class we read Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future by Punya Mishra. This sparked my interest because of this idea of creativity. “Consider the fact that creativity in science or mathematics is essential, as surely as it is in art or music; and creative thinking skills between varying disciplines certainly have similarities” (Punya, 2012, p.14). Usually when it comes to math, the focus is primarily on problem solving and critical thinking. There really isn’t much discussion on creativity that happens during the learning process. Students, in some cases, are discouraged from being creative. This opened my mind to the idea that there is creativity in mathematics. Reading this article challenged my views on how I teach mathematics.
Researching more on the topics of creativity in mathematics I came across Eric Mann’s article Creativity: The Essence of Mathematics. His definition of mathematics is powerful: “The essence of mathematics is thinking creatively, not simply arriving at the right answer” (Mann, 2006, p. 239). This resonated with me because in society’s attempt to be competitive in this new technological world, we have altered the way we teach students mathematics. We are so focused and driven on what standards teachers need to get through each school year to prepare students for the real world. However, do we really use math the way it was taught to us in the classroom? As a math teacher, I always get the dreaded question of “Are we ever going to use this in the real world?” Absolutely! However, not in the context that we think of it. In the book How People Learn, Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) give the example of a man who wanted to measure out ¾ of a 2/3 cup of cottage cheese. Instead of multiplying the fractions, he measured out the 2/3 cups, patted the cheese out into a round shape, and the divided the circle into fourths to use three sections (p. 74). In this example, the man took his conceptual knowledge about fractions to apply it to his practical problem. Although he did not figure out his problem using an algorithm, he used his creativity to think through and solve the problem. If this was on a test, this would be considered a wrong answer since he is unable to give a fractional answer in return. However, this is a creative application. In the classroom, this is a teaching moment that can be expanded upon to give way to deeper analysis. “By applying learned strategies, a student can systematically apply multiple methods to solve a problem but never diverge into a creative strategy, never exploring areas outside the individual’s known content-universe. To encourage the development of mathematical creativity, educators need to enable creative exploration and rewards students who seek to expand their content-universe” (Mann, 2006, p. 239). Seeing the creativity in mathematics and allowing it to exist in the classroom allows for a lot more students to bring in their prior knowledge and transfer content knowledge to real world applications.
If education shifts from the focus of math to be computational to math is a creative way to solve our problems, we will feel less constrained to standards. When planning a lesson, I am used to using the pacing guide to make sure I am meeting certain standards. These standards focus on teaching math algorithms. This is the logical and computational aspect of math. However, if we focus on the creativity, we can teach math the way students should learn it. This will open up a world of technology tools in our classrooms to allow students to explore what mathematics is in the world around them. For example, students can discover the many applications of fractions, ratios and percentages using DJ software (Mishra & Koehler, 2009, p. 17-18). When we as educators view creativity as the essence of mathematics, we can more effectively find that sweet spot between content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge, which is TPACK.
Bransford J. D., Brown A. L., Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington D. C.: National Academies Press.
Mann, E. L. (2006). Creativity: The essence of mathematics. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 30(2), 236-260.
Mishra, P. (2012). Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st century: Crayons are the future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16.
Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Using the TPACK framework: You can have your hot tools and teach with them, too. Learning & Leading with Technology, 36(7), 14-18.