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Let's Talk about "Math Recess" by Singh and Brownell (2019)
Posted by Robin Dubiel on July 1, 2019 at 3:14 pmHi, everyone! My summer goal is to read and reflect on “Math Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruption”. So far, it does NOT disappoint! After reading the forward, Introduction, Added Introduction, and Chapter One: Just Play, I am left impressed at the honesty and passion these two bring to disrupting traditional Math instruction and promoting play! “Kids don’t hate mathematics because it’s hard; they hate it because it is so bloody boring.” (p. 10)
Who else out there has read this or wants to read it with me and talk about how the ideas presented might be impacting you?
Sarah Merrylees replied 3 years, 3 months ago 6 Members · 13 Replies 
13 Replies

Hi Robin,<br>I have just ordered this book and look forward to its arrival next week. Once I get into it, I would love to discuss it with you.
Brigitta
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Yay! I am home from camping now, and I will be diving back into the book. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Hi Robin,<br>Glad camping went well and that you had great weather.<br>I am still waiting for “Math Recess” to arrive, but I have read “A mathematician’s lament” and I’m working through “How to become the math teacher you wish you’d had”. I’m really enjoying that one. It’s geared mainly towards elementary students, but certainly has some ideas that I’m hoping to be able to use with my high school students. I will let you know when my book arrives!
Brigitta
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Hi Robin,<br>I received my book yesterday and I just finished Chapter 1. I am enjoying it so far and I’m hoping to find lots of rich problems further on in the book. I have a Grade 9 Enriched class this fall and I’m looking for fun tasks to give them to tackle at the boards. How are you enjoying the book so far?<br>Brigitta
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Hi, Brigitta! Just home from camping trip #2 (leaving for third adventure early next week!), and I spent a bit of time relaxing on a “zero gravity” chair, reading Math Recess. One of the best things about this book is that you can totally hear their voices and passion about play in math. In Chapter One, they talked about building basic fact fluency “joyously” with games and fun. Have you read “Making Number Talks Matter”? This might be useful for your enriched class. I finished that chapter mulling over “How could you create a space at your school where mathematical games and play are options for children, not merely as rewards but as part of regular practice?” The last school I taught at had a Chess Club outside of regular school time, but I genuinely don’t know about other math game and play time. What might your school do? What could we try?
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In Chapter Two, you have GOT to watch the TEDx Talk “Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching”, purely for the inspiration. There’s a QR code link in the book. It’s about 15 minutes long, and I plan to share it with staffs this year.

Hi Robin,
Great minds think alike. I’ve been enjoying “Math Recess” in my zero gravity chair as well. I agree that the way in which this book is written makes it very easy to read and enjoy but also clearly conveys their passion for mathematics. I have read “Making Number Talks Matter” and it’s on my desk for me to take another skim through it to see what I might be able to use with my classes this fall. To answer your questions about how to create space in your school or classroom where mathematical play and games are encouraged, I am hoping to implement some of the ideas Sara VanDerwerf outlines in her “My Week 1 Math Posts”.
She outlines lots of great ways to put math incidentally in the path of students to hook them in to thinking about math, even when they are reluctant. I am hoping to have a math puzzle posted outside my door each week and I’m trying to figure out how to fit a “play table” in to my classroom. We’ll see after I get my class numbers. ðŸ™‚
Dan Finkel’s Ted talk that you mentioned from Chapter 2 is one of my favourites. I would agree that it would be a great one for PD with teachers.
I am also reading “Becoming the math teacher you wish you’d had” and although it is geared more towards elementary classes, there are lots of great ideas and methods that I think can be used in high school. One that I came across this evening is the idea of asking the students the following questions after you have finished a problem, “Do you have more questions after doing this? What are you wondering about now?” It ties to the following quote by Eric Knuth.
“Mathematical curiosity includes more than simply a desire to learn or to know mathematics. Mathematical curiosity also includes a desire to explore mathematical ideas through posing mathematically interesting problems after one has “finished” a problem. The solution or aspects of the problem can become springboards for further exploration.”
It also ties in to Sara VanDerwerf’s definition of what math is and what mathematicians do: Mathematics is the study of PATTERNS.
Mathematicians NOTICE patterns, DESCRIBE patterns, GENERALIZE patterns.
I also enjoyed Chapter 3 and the discussion about the value of grades. Although I will still be using a fairly traditional grading system in my courses this fall, I’m hoping to add to the back of my test a self assessment continuum for my students to complete for each of the expectations covered by the assessment. I hope to be able to see how closely their assessment of their understanding matches what was demonstrated on the test and move them towards being more focused on the feedback provided and less on the actual grade.
I just finished reading Chapter 5 of “Math Recess” which is about the Finnish school system and how “Schooling is about finding your happiness”.
Although I know it is a constant struggle to cover (or uncover) the curriculum expectations we have for our courses, I am hoping that by spiralling I will be able to carve out time for students to spend time playing with mathematics.
Other ways to include a more playful approach in a small way is to do things like:
Solve me mobiles – https://solveme.edc.org/mobiles/
Which one doesn’t belong – https://wodb.ca/
I will often put something like that up at the end of class, to keep them engaged and hopefully leave them thinking about it until the next day.
In chapter 4, they also give a lot of pencil and paper type games that students can play. If you have a games club, you could play those types of games with your students. Games like PIG also allow students to develop a “best strategy” to win. Even 3D tictactoe can be lots of fun. I attended a workshop with Peter Liljedahl where we spent over an hour figuring out how many different ways you could win at 3D tictactoe on a 3x3x3 board, and then took that to a 4x4x4 shape, then 5x5x5. It was fun.
I hope you are enjoying your camping trip. We just got back from a trip to Sault Ste. Marie for a ride on the Agawa Canyon Train. Lovely scenery and good family time but the bugs up there are vicious!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts as we enjoy the rest of this wonderful book.
Brigitta
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I just finished Math Recess a couple of days ago. Really a great book, and I am determined to include at least some of these ideas into my classes this year. Hoping I find the time!

Currently reading it. It is full of great information and ideas! Will start applying it on Day 1!

Wow! Brigitta, thank you SO much for sharing such awesome tasks/ideas! I will not be in my own classroom this year as my role has changed, but I intend on sharing these ideas with the teachers with whom I will be working.
Now, I haven’t been logged into the Academy for a LONG time. My summer seemed to fly by, and I spent a great deal of late July and August in the great outdoors (sans computer). But I did finish Math Recess and actually connected with Sunil Singh and Chris Brownell on Twitter a few times – such passionate Math educators!
A couple things I wanted to discuss:
1. I wish the commercial “Albert’s Insomnia” game was a bit less pricey. We have played a few rounds of Prime Climb this summer – if you have not played this, please give it a try! It’s a stellar game for exploring understanding about prime numbers but also practicing +//x/division facts. For me, know about prime numbers was practical and just part of what you learned in math (as in, who cares?). This has totally changed!
2. I highlighted the part on p. 132 where they talked about “These are not ‘have to’ rules; they are just conventions we have adopted.” How might we best share this in a way that promotes curiousity and the “okayness” of exploring many ways to think about math? They use this question: “How can you move away from presenting math as only a rigid, authoritative set of rules?” (p. 170)
3. I could go on quite extensively about all the “math” I learned in Chapter 8. I have never heard of Abundant Numbers (p. 183), Circular Primes, Deficient Numbers… and it all seems so darn fun now. Lol!
4. I think my very, very favourite part of this whole book was this: “Kids need to explore mathematics, and we, the math educators, have to explore what they get to explore. This is a tremendous but rewarding responsibility.” (p.208) We are the models of growth mindset, stepping outside the box, struggling with the unknown, and still having FUN!
Again, thanks for your patience with my lack of presence. Any ideas on what we could read next?

Hi Robin,
I am so glad to hear that you had a great summer spent out of doors. We did as well. It was a great summer with lovely weather. We need to soak up that sunshine to get us through the next few months.
Thanks for your thoughts on the book. Yes, there are some amazing ideas included that I hope to incorporate into my classes this year. I have planned out my 1D enriched class to cover in 4 days what my 1D colleagues will do in 5 and take that 5th day to do enrichment activities with my class. I anticipate using “Math Recess” as a resource for those activities.
As for what to read next….I am starting at a new school this semester so I am expecting to be pretty occupied just staying on top of my courses. Sadly, I doubt I will have time to do much professional reading. I hope I have enough time to do some of the online learning here at the academy.
If you’re looking for something to read though, I would recommend “Becoming the math teacher you wish you’d had” by Tracy Johnston Zager. I really enjoyed it. I am also intrigued by the new book out by Marian Small, but it looks very similar to the textbook we used for P/J math part 1. Jo Boaler’s new book looks good too. So many ideas!
I hope you have a great start to the year.
Brigitta
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There is so much goodness in this thread. Thanks for starting it!
Books like Math Recess, Making Number Talks Matter, Becoming The Teacher You Wish You’d Had, and others referenced here are ALL great.
I also love how you’ve brought up Dan Finkel’s TEDTalk… we had him on the podcast for episode 11 –> http://makemathmoments.com/episode11
Also, Sara VanDerWerf was interviewed recently and her episode will be coming out in just a little while!Thanks for sharing all of your insights with the community.

Hi Robin,
So enjoying following your stream. Have just ordered “Maths Recess” watched “Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching” and am hoping to use your ideas in my own classroom. Great resources and ideas. Thank you.