Learning Math as a Creative Experience

As mathematics takes an increasing role in work and life, creativity must become central to its learning, because: 1) creativity and creative problem solving are essential 21st century skills, 2) creativity drives engagement and enjoyment, and 3) creativity builds understanding.

1. 21st Century Skills: In survey after survey, business and STEM leaders rate creativity and creative problem solving at the top of their list of critical workforce skills. The ability to think-out-of-the-box is described as desirable for every worker to enable both practical problem solving as well as innovation. As teachers we know that “The skills we practice are the skills we learn.” Just as practicing long division makes us good at long division, so practicing creativity and creative problem solving, will make us good creative problem solvers.

2. Engagement and Enjoyment: A clutch of crayons, a lump of clay, or a pile of plastic blocks is magnetic to children because it provides them with a vehicle for creativity. Creativity engages us, excites us, energizes us. If we want more students to go into STEM fields, more students to enjoy math, and more students to find learning math a worthwhile activity; then infusing creativity into learning is the surest means to achieve those goals.

3. Understanding: Recognizing a pattern is widely regarded as understanding. If we are to prepare our students to be lifelong learners in a rapidly changing world, then understanding must be our goal. Since math is “the science of patterns”, a focus on patterns and patternmaking in its classrooms is entirely appropriate. And if we think of art as “the language of patterns”, then creativity is essential to developing understanding.

For these three powerful reasons, I seek to focus a conversation on learning math as a creative experience. I believe creativity is essential to the future of math education if we are to meet our obligation to prepare the next generation for the world they inherit. Please join me in this voyage of discovery and invention.