Children as Mathematicians?

It’s August.For me that means wrapping up vacations (I’ve still got one more to Cape Cod coming up!) and starting to think more and more about what is coming up just around the bend–the return to school. I actually love these August days when I am still feeling relaxed and summery, but I can just start to feel the hopeful wonder that comes with the fresh start of a new year.

August is a time when many of us teachers are thinking about the ways we will build strong communities in our classrooms. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately—specifically with building communities of mathematicians.

 For a long time I was more comfortable helping my students build their identities as readers, writers and scientists. I talked with my kids about how readers think and how scientists collect data, but I didn’t say much about mathematicians. In fact, I’m fairly certain I stayed far away from the term mathematician altogether! Somewhere along the line I changed how I defined math, and this forced me to reexamine who I considered to be a mathematician. I came to believe that math is not a fixed set of ideas and procedures created by “other people” to be accepted and memorized by us regular folks. I came to believe that the field of math is open and that all of us involved in the daily work of problem solving are real, contributing mathematicians.  As my understanding of math changed, so did my use of the word mathematician. I came to view myself and my students as mathematicians, people participating in important mathematical thought and communities.

The language we use as teachers is powerful, but it is not enough simply to refer to students as mathematicians. Our language must be a reflection of our true belief that all children are capable of original mathematical thought and problem solving on a deep level. If we believe that then there is no argument that children do the real work of mathematicians.

So, as always, I’m curious to hear from you all! How will you help your students see themselves as mathematicians? And how do you view yourself as a mathematician?

Note: This post is the first in a series I’ll be posting about building communities of mathematicians. Check back soon for my next post on how I use mathematician statements to guide children in constructing their identities as mathematicians.

2 thoughts on “Children as Mathematicians?

  1. One of the things I like to do with my early learners is “tour” the school looking for people being mathematicians. I send an email before we do it to the school. I ask the kids to write on dry erase boards as we go through the school (alternatively journals) and we use our observations to make an anchor chart identifying who is a mathematician. It is really neat to see how they suddenly see that age, gender, language, and other characteristics are NOT definitions. This is when they begin to see that they TOO can be mathematicians. I think that kids see it as a grown up thing otherwise.

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