Teaching for creativity in maths

How numeracy and curiosity are natural companions

It’s possible to cultivate creativity in every subject of the school. Of course, in maths it’s important to establish confidence in basic routines with numbers. But many teachers are showing how you can think like a mathematician and exercise your creativity at the same time.

Sometimes the word ‘creativity’ can get in the way. It may, for example, help to think of creative thinking as posing questions, experimenting with ideas, taking risks, being playful and working collaboratively. Here are a couple of examples.

Encourage divergent thinking

Maths problems are often presented as having one right answer. But they can be converted into open-ended problems relatively easily. Take this volume calculation. The task is to find the volume of an aquarium that is 12in wide by 14in long by 12in high.

An open-ended version of this problem could be:

You have been asked to design an aquarium in the shape of a rectangular prism for your school’s reception area. Because of the type of fish being purchased, the pet shop recommends that the aquarium should hold 24 cubic feet of water. Find as many different dimensions for the aquarium as possible. Then decide which aquarium you would recommend and explain why you made that choice.

The open-ended nature of the problem allowed students to work out multiple options and use additional strategies in selecting their final design.

Think flexibly

Creative thinkers can break free from routine patterns of thinking when they need to and see a problem from different perspectives

Ask your students to find two numbers when you give their sum and the difference between them. Give them some examples such as the sum of 8 and the difference of 4 (6 and 2). Keep going with more examples using only whole numbers.

Then ask them to find two numbers where the sum is 9 and the difference is 2.

A surprisingly large number of students say that this is not possible. To get the right solution (5.5 and 3.5), they need to think flexibly and break free from the self-imposed constraint of using only whole numbers.

Once they’ve got into the habit, invite them to think of other questions for each other that require them to think flexibly.

Adapted from the following article.

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