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Design Thinking & Mathematics Teaching — Change Your Mindset

At EnRusk we work with many schools helping them integrate Design Thinking into their curriculum

practices. One of the common questions we get is how you might use it to teach mathematics. On surface level it appears to be more relevant to teaching the humanities. This last week we were working with 22 Education Specials for the Victorian Department of Education. At weeks end I received an email from one of the participants asking a similar question. I thought it might be useful to post my response to allow others in the broader internet community to provide thoughts. Please feel free to add them in the comment section so we can all learn from each other. Here is how I responded.

Let me start by reminding ourselves that Design Thinking is not about making a product; it is a way of thinking or a methodology of research.

It requires a change in the way we approach mathematics teaching, moving it away from a linear, repetition based approach (like how I was taught 30 years ago), to one that places it in context. How might it be used to help students solve real world, problems? To do that it will have to be taught ion context of the other disciplines that are needed to solve those problems.

It’s a long-standing myth that you must teach maths in a stepwise fashion. What are we trying to achieve with teaching maths? If it is to create mathematics experts of everyone we have failed. What about if we tried to reimagine teaching maths in context of the following question.

How might we create a rich understanding and love of life and see mathematics place in it?

In a DT authentic project, the right mathematical tool will be needed depending on the project. It will integrate with the other subject are knowledge required for the problem. It would be an immersion/discovery activity. Teaching maths as an isolated discipline is ridiculous. Maths is never separated from the rest of the world. It is merely a tool that tries to give us humans an understanding of how the world might work.

Mathematics itself is also always shifting, changing, it's always in transition depending on changes in thinking. Mathematics constantly evolves. It’s not a fixed subject, yet unfortunately, schools teach it as it is.

Many schools provide minimal context or understanding for students for the relevance of maths to problem solve when used in collaboration with everything else, giving little insight into the evolutionary nature of mathematics. It’s presented as fixed absolutes. That in itself provides little opportunity for the student’s voices — it is rigidly fixed, and, for most, boring and irrelevant. This is sad as it can be THE most innovative and engaging subject. To be that we require a change in how and why the teacher delivers the subject.

Again I remind you DT is not about the product. It is a way of thinking and a process. When we use Design Thinking, just like when we do any form of authentic research, we collectively create and curate data, we collectively synthesis it to find problems worth solving, we collectively comes up with ideas and potential solution (prototypes) we test and ideate them based on our further research. It is deeply connected to humanity. In that, we always understand the context, we learn to listen and ask questions. Can you see where maths would fit into all of that?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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