The F Word

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Last month, Rob Eastaway wrote this piece about Maths and Fun. It really resonated with me, because I often come across this notion that we ought to be making maths fun. In fact, one popular perception of the NRICH project is that we exist to try to make maths fun.

This came to mind today as I re-read some of the feedback I got after working with some Year 8 students recently. The project was an extended one, and at the start I explained to the students and their teachers that we would be trying some challenging maths problems and learning new techniques for solving problems, as well as developing ideas like working systematically, conjecturing and proving.  Some of the feedback included exhortations to “Make it more fun” or “More games”. Thankfully, there was also feedback with comments like “Being challenged made me think more”, and some students appreciated that although they sometimes found the maths hard work, they enjoyed the satisfaction they got from solving a difficult problem.

I wrote a while ago about the use of rewards in mathematics classrooms. It all seems to be part of the same issue to me – whether trivialising maths as ‘fun’ or make a physical reward the motivation, we take away the potential for them to derive joy from solving really tough problems and rob them of the discovery that maths can be intriguing and engaging (words I would much rather use than ‘fun’).

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