Getting Kids Interested In Math (Without Their Knowing)

May 19, 2014

One sheep with six legs, or two sheep with eight legs? What about the poor sheep laying on the grass?
One sheep with six legs, or two sheep with eight legs? What about the poor sheep laying on the grass?
Credit Flickr Photo/Robbie Veldwijk

Cats have four legs. Dogs have four legs. So obviously, all animals have four legs.

Try out that reasoning on a kid, says mathematician Dan Finkel, to introduce them to the concept of mathematical play.

Dan Finkel holds a strawberry.
Dan Finkel holds a strawberry.
Credit math 4 love

Wrong, the kids should say. What about people? And fish?

“Kids love to prove adults wrong,” Finkel, co-director of Math 4 Love, told KUOW’s Bill Radke. And math is about arguing against seeming truths – what comedian Stephen Colbert refers to as “truthiness.” These math games encourage youngsters to play with proofs.

There’s a sense that if “you’re not suffering, you’re not learning,” Finkel says. But the opposite is true, he said. “Even people doing the deepest mathematical research are people who have retained ability to play.”