Math Play Goes a Long Way

February 22, 2017
Young girl completing a math problem on a chalkboard

A.P. Johnson

Michelle Manes is a mathematics professor at the University of Hawaii. While Manes is committed to teaching undergraduate students and working on her own research, she remains passionate about K-12 education. To stay connected to teachers, she helped start a Math Teachers’ Circle in Honolulu. The circle meets once a month and invites math teachers from all grade levels to get together and work on fun, challenging math alongside research mathematicians.

In an interview with Katrina Schwartz from KQED News, Manes explained, “I try to bring that creativity and joy and excitement and discovery piece into the Math Teachers’ Circle and hope it trickles into the classroom.” What makes these professional development opportunities different from others is that the focus of these circles is not on lesson plans or pedagogy. The majority of the workshop time is spent working on a problem that the facilitators bring with the idea that teachers will revive what they love about math and how it feels to be a student.

Heather Danforth is the co-director of curriculum at a school for the gifted in the San Francisco Bay area.  She attended one of Manes' Math Circles professional development workshops. “One thing I’ve learned from Math Teachers’ Circles is watching mathematicians who I have tremendous respect for make errors and be corrected and be OK with that,” said Danforth. She now facilitates the math circles for the math teachers at her school as part of their regular professional development.

Manes believes that most of the teachers she has worked with over the years realized that they needed to give students more time to think, to encourage students to focus on mathematics more, to assign more group work, and to be more open to trying new things in the classroom.

The American Institute of Mathematics is thrilled about this new professional development trend and hopes that soon there will be a Math Circle within driving distance of every teacher in the country.