Come Play at the Math Playground

Last Friday, Regina and I put the “M” in STEM by hosting the first ever Math Playground at the 3rd annual Round Rock ISD STEMFest. The goal of the Math Playground is to create a space where children and families can play with mathematical ideas. I was inspired by the work of Christopher Danielson, specifically Math-On-a-Stick, an event he hosts at the Minnesota State Fair every summer:

“The longer the child plays, the richer the mathematical activity she engages in. This is because the materials themselves have math built into them.” (Source)

How Many?

We had several copies of Christopher Danielson’s book How Many? available for families to read. Unlike most counting books that have a page for the number 1, a page for 2, a page for 3, and so on, in this counting book, “How many?” is truly a question you can ask on each page, and the answer will vary depending on what you decide to count!

Which One Doesn’t Belong?

In addition to his book, Christopher Danielson has also created a set of beautiful shape posters that all ask the same question, “Which one of these shapes doesn’t belong with the other three?” The great thing is that there are many right answers, and the fun is in explaining your ideas and making sense of the ideas of others. We had posters hanging up all around the Math Playground. It was great to see parents and children stop to talk about posters as they moved around the space.

Playing With Numbers

Regina offered a selection of games from Tiny Polka Dot, a math game created by Dan Finkel. What I love about this game, other than the fact that the cards are so beautifully designed, is that the same cards can be used for 16 different games geared toward children from ages 3 to at least 7 years old. Children are also free to explore and create their own games using the cards.

Counting and Patterns

Who doesn’t love colorful eggs? I can tell you firsthand that young children are all about colorful eggs. Even more so when there are giant eggs cartons to fill!

We encouraged parents to hang back and let their children play. As Christopher Danielson observed at Math-On-A-Stick:

I have observed that the children who receive the least instruction from parents, volunteers, or me are the most likely to persist. These are the children who will spend 20 minutes or more exploring the possibilities in the eggs.

The children who receive instructions from adults are least likely to persist. When a parent or volunteer says, “Make a pattern,” kids are likely to do one of two things:

1. Make a pattern, quit, and move to something else
2. Stop playing without making a pattern

We adults have a responsibility to let the children play. We can be there to listen to their ideas as they do. We can play in parallel by getting our own egg cartons out and filling these cartons with our own ideas.

But when we tell kids to “make a pattern” or “use the colors”, we are asking the children to fill that carton with our ideas, rather than allowing them to explore their own.


Tiles & Patterns

We offered a selection of tiles for children to explore. The tiling turtles were probably the overall favorite.

While STEMFest is an elementary-focused event, we did have some high schoolers wandering through since the event was hosted at on of our high schools. It was so much fun watching these two 9th graders spend time playing with the tiles on their own and then collaboratively.

Prime Climb

Prime Climb is another game created by Dan Finkel. Thanks to the idea of David Butler, we were able to offer a life-size version of the game for children and families to play. A huge thank you to David McConnell from Old Town Elementary for volunteering to facilitate the game!

Counting Collections

This wasn’t an official part of our Math Playground – although I’d love to bring it back next year! – but I wanted to give a shout out to Ananda San Miguel from Wells Branch Arts Integration Academy for hosting a table sharing the Counting Collections instructional routine. Children had their choice of materials to count, and she even had message boards where students could share their love of counting in English or Spanish.

All in all our first ever Math Playground was a resounding success! I’m appreciative of this opportunity to not only bring the “M” in STEM but also for being able to offer fun and joyful experiences for children and families to engage in mathematics together. I can’t wait for next year!

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