There are times when I read teacher education articles, and give an internal eye roll. How is an article about 5 and 6-year-olds playing going to help me teach high school kids? How does the development of math concepts in 1st graders help me hit 42 different Geometry standards (CCSSI)? I have to throttle down my tired, cynical side and strive harder to think about what the articles are really trying to talk about. On the surface, the articles I read talked about opportunities for developing mathematical connections during play. Children already love to play and can explore a plethora of mathematical scenarios as they do so, without even realizing it. Students constructing with blocks are constantly constructing and deconstructing, thinking about what different parts can make a new whole. Students playing with dolls are encountering proportions, and symmetry. (Parks & Blom, 2014) It is the teacher’s role to bring attention to the math the students are encountering and around which they are building an understanding. So I started to think about ways that I could talk about math concepts through the play students engage in when they have free time.
Students play all kinds of games in their free time. What are the games that students are already playing that I could use to make connections to geometry content? This requires knowledge of my content and my students (KCS) (Hill & Ball, 2009) to execute properly. Can I talk about games like Clue or Among Us to talk to students about reasoning? Can I talk about pool or mini-golf to discuss angles? Can I use social media videos to talk about reflection? The more I can connect math to the things students are already doing, the more it will seem real and knowable to them. The more it will make sense to them. It also requires understanding where the connections are coming to students both in and outside class, or knowledge at the mathematical horizon (HCK). I will need both to effectively connect students and the games they play to mathematical concepts we will touch in class.
Geometry is a subject that covers much more than just your traditional operations, and it is more than only shapes. It includes proofs and reasoning, measurement and dimension (CCSSI). It can be spatial and concrete in a way that other higher math subjects have difficulty doing. So maybe I can not give my high school students a Lego corner in my math class. I can still try to incorporate play to make connections between what they already know, that the nest step to push their thinking further. I can look to scaffold learning in a familiar game format, or refer to familiar games, to get the most out of their learning. Students are unknowingly encountering math all the time in their games. I just need to point it out.
Hill, H., & Ball, D. L. (2009). The curious – and crucial – case of Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 91(2), 68–71.
Parks, A. N., & Chang Blom, D. (2014). Helping young children see math in play. Teaching Children Mathematics, 20(5), 310–317.