# The math and creativity intersection.

The creative math problem. Wait, what?

Could creativity be useful in the “one answer world” of math? Listen in…

Last weekend I was at an end-of-summer pool party. A math teacher was asked how she handled homework in her freshmen Algebra class.

“Do you assign homework in your freshmen Algebra class?” John asked.

“Every day,” Jane replied.

“Even on the first day?” he inquired.

“Absolutely. Every day. If they don’t have homework they should consider it a gift.”

The exchange continued, “What kind of homework are you giving on the first day?” John inquired.

“Something to get them to think. Something like…hmmm…ok here’s an example: Y*our math teacher says that half of eight is three. He/she is correct. What’s the answer?”*

We looked at one another with that deer-in-the-headlights expression.

“That’s the goal of me giving homework on the first day,” she explained, “To get them – and you – to think.” Jane then looked at each of us and wrapped up the dialogue. “Think about it. And text me when you get the answer.” The smile on Jane’s face was priceless.

Following my puzzled look and a pause, I saw the answer. Jane smiled at me. I smiled back. It was our secret language for a bit. She then put her finger to her lips and asked me not to share with the group. I promised.

Perhaps the solution dawned on me (yes, pun intended) because of my son’s recent and pervasive quizzing from a “brain teasers” book. I’ve been reminded daily from this that often the trick is that the answers are not where you’re trying to find them. It was the same thing with Jane’s math problem. To solve it, I needed to step outside of my “math brain.”

My husband, Rick, was in the group and for him to step out of his “math brain” is a longer trek than it is for me. Rick is an engineer and math and logic are hard-wired with him. My math and logic skills are more like a back-up generator I call on when needed. Rick tapped into his back-up generator of creativity and texted Jane with the answer about an hour later. He was sure to mention there was “no help from Dawn.”

I love this exercise. I’m sure that getting the answer right didn’t hurt, but more importantly I like that it challenges my thinking and reminds me to pay attention. This first-day-of-school homework challenges my thinking that math is a “one answer world.” The exercise also reminds me to pay attention to the opportunities all around us to think differently. Even an end-of-summer pool party. Thanks, Jane, for your resolve to challenge your students – and friends – to think.

Now, back to the math problem. Post the answer in the comments below. First three correct answers win bragging rights.

*Your math teacher says that half of eight is three. He/she is correct. What’s the answer?*

I look forward to hearing from you.