I passed a lovely morning with some math teacher friends at the Museum of Math in New York City today. Sadly, I did not have Griffin or Tabitha along. We would have had a ball.
I have three observations…
One. There is lots for kids to do there. It is truly a bonanza of mathematical conversation starters. I left wanting to be hired on as “Docent for Talking Math with Your Kids”. This is because the math does not smack you in the face. Instead, the math in the exhibits tends to surface in the process of playing, experimenting and paying very careful attention to what is going on.
In short, you want to talk about these exhibits and you want to linger.
Two. Many of the exhibits are designed in ways that allow kids to play and to do math beyond the intended activity. The exhibit below, for example, kept two little boys (each 5 or 6 years old) busy for 20 minutes although the original activity was way beyond them.
The first five minutes, they were sharing each of the shapes equally, making sure each of the two boys had the same number of squares, and the same number of triangles, et cetera. The next 10 minutes, they spent arranging the shapes on the screen, marveling at the things this provoked on the screen beneath.
It was lovely.
It could have been a bummer, though. If someone had insisted on doing the intended activity, these kids could not have done it. If the shapes had been electronic instead of concrete, the kids would not have been able to play with them in such creative ways.
Well done, Museum of Math!
Three. On the subway train back to my hotel, I noticed a little girl—probably 4 years old—holding up four fingers as she sat between her mother and brother.
I moved to be in listening range.
It turns out, she had been told they would be on the train for five stops. She had been putting up one additional finger as the train left each stop.
Sister (4 years old): [She is holding up four fingers as the train enters the station] This is our stop!
Brother (8 years old): No. The sign says there’s one more stop.
Sister: But you said five stops.
Mom: One more, sweetie.
The train stops. People get off and on. The doors close. The train starts up again.
The girl keeps exactly four fingers up the whole time.