‘Fun’ with ‘math’

Museums are trying to make “math” “fun,” writes Katharine Beals, using quotes advisedly, on Out in Left Field.

Math has an image problem, explains Ed Week, which shows students dancing on the light-activated Math Square at the Museum of Mathematics in New York. Math is “often seen as hard, abstract—even pointless.”  The museum hopes to convince kids that math is “cool.”

“Changing perceptions is our goal,” said Cindy Lawrence, the co-executive director of MoMath, as it’s quickly become known. “From the minute people walk in the door, we try to highlight the creative side of math: that it’s colorful, it’s beautiful, it’s exploratory, fun and engaging. None of these are words people typically associate with math.”

MoMath activities include dancing in front of screens that illustrate fractals, riding an oversize tricycle with square wheels on a bumpy track and putting together a large, colorful foam tetraxis geometric structure.

The Geometry Playground at the Exploratorium in San Francisco features giant mathematical climbing structures to help students understand spatial reasoning.

“The thrust of the exhibit was to create a whole-body, immersive experience where people are navigating through space,” said Josh Gutwill, the director of visitor research and evaluation at the science museum.

Visitors use 12-sided figures to build structures and try to play hopscotch in front of a curved mirror. While most people think of math as a “cerebral domain,” Mr. Gutwill said students can better understand it through physical, interactive experiences.

The Design Zone at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Math Moves exhibit also try to make math fun, active and creative.

Beals is a skeptic about “playground math,” she writes in a follow-up. ”It seems to me that the best way to make math fun is . . . to help them master the rote aspects of arithmetic as quickly and efficiently as possible so they can move on” to solving interesting problems. She includes a KenKen math puzzle.

Math is abstract, isn’t it?


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