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How Mathematicians Play - Creating a Culture of Ownership, Rigor and Joy in Maths Class


Category:  International, Mathematics, Play based learning


              HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED FOR 2021

Venues: TBC

Play is one of the most effective ways to explore new contexts and make connections. Still, play without boundaries won’t help us to achieve our teaching goals. We need to develop structures and strategies to connect meaningful exploration and develop true mathematical understanding. 

This session will focus on concrete methods to marry play and rigor in math class. Using conjectures and counterexamples, classroom openers, and other routines, we can build a classroom culture that motivates students to think more deeply and take ownership of their own mathematical learning.


Participants will-

  • Learn how to use conjectures and counterexamples to deepen mathematical learning, build a positive classroom culture, and engage in mathematical play. We'll apply the process of playing with conjectures and counterexamples to exploration patterns in multiplication and arithmetic, and find how rich even simple-seeming problems can become.

  • Leave with a deeper sense of the richness of mathematics, and how play generates curiosity, builds conceptual understanding & strategic competence, and promotes lasting learning.

Overview of the day-


  1. Motivations for mathematical play and the importance of ownership

  2. The game of Counterexamples

  3. Conjecture and Counterexamples applied to a multiplication (and other mathematical) problems

  4. Openers & Games in the classroom

  5. Closing reflection on thinking & playing like a mathematician

From Dan -


"I was lucky: in the summer of ninth grade I was accepted into a math camp at Hampshire college. The math I did there, and the opportunity of getting to work with kids like me under the tutelage of real mathematicians changed my life.

That experience inoculated me against all future problems with math. Because I knew what the real thing looked like, because I had done math like a real mathematician and had seen the beauty, I was protected when someone told me that boring busywork was all there was to math. The deeper I went into the subject, the better it got. I graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in mathematics, and taught math for two years at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights. In 2004 I came to graduate school at the University of Washington, and in 2010 I graduated with my PhD in algebraic geometry. The whole time I’ve been wondering why kids never get to see the good stuff in math until they’re graduate students. Why is a typical math class at school more likely to be a place where students learn to despise math than to love it?


Math for Love is my response to this state of affairs. I want to to give kids the opportunity to be mathematicians right now. I want to teach math to groups, to individuals, to parents, adults, and children. I want to give everyone the chance to fall in love with mathematics."


~Dan Finkel