Everyone deserves the chance to fall in love with maths

In this blog we meet Dan Finkel. Dan is the founder of Math for Love and a contributor at Maths Pathway. He has a PhD in algebraic geometry and has dedicated his life to sharing his love of maths.

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Dan Finkel wants everyone to have the chance to fall in love with maths. It’s something he’s dedicated his life to after finding that maths is often mistreated, mistaught and misunderstood.

In Dan’s TEDx Talk, he says ‘Math can be the best of times, or the worst of times’. As maths teachers, we know exactly what Dan means. Most people either love maths, or hate it. Some proudly proclaim to be a ‘maths person’. Others experience anxiety at the thought of numbers or equations. And this is exactly what Dan wants to change. He wants every person to see the beauty of mathematics and experience the joyful journeys of discovery that it can take you on.

A smiling Dan Finkel sits at a classroom table with three students.

Falling for maths

Dan’s journey with maths isn’t quite what you’d expect. Growing up he was naturally talented in the subject and many of his hobbies, like puzzles and maze building, were linked to mathematics. So when he got to school, he accelerated quickly through aged-based content. By the time he turned 15, Dan had completed calculus and when he reached the middle of high school, he had no more maths left to do.

But despite his brilliant mathematical abilities, Dan saw maths as somewhat pointless. He didn’t truly enjoy it and was frustrated by the process of learning it. The teachers would explain how to use a formula, then the students would copy them. And if that’s all there was to maths, Dan wasn’t interested in pursuing it.

That was until he was accepted into a maths camp at Hampshire College. It was there that, for the first time, Dan experienced ‘real’ mathematics. The kind that solves problems and helps to make sense of the world. He was challenged, he had the opportunity to play and explore, and he got to work with kids of a similar age to him under the tutelage of mathematicians. His passion  was truly cemented at this camp and in many ways marked the start of his journey to changing the way we teach maths.

Students completing 1-2 Nim with their teacher,  a rich task created by Maths Pathway and Dan Finkel.

The wearer of many hats

After high school, Dan graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in mathematics and soon after began teaching. After two years, he returned to study attending graduate school at the University of Washington, and in 2010 he graduated with a PhD in algebraic geometry. It was after completing his PhD that Dan decided teaching maths was the most important contribution he could make to the world.

Today, Dan is the wearer of many hats. He’s a TEDx Talk speaker, an award-winning board game creator, a TED-Ed riddle contributor, an improv comedy performer and an expert in maths education. But his most important role is leader of his company, Math for Love, which he established in 2010.

The company is Dan’s solution to the growing problem of maths anxiety in classrooms across the world. Through curriculum development, professional development for teachers and the creation of engaging maths games Dan hopes to make maths learning a fun experience that students look forward to.

Students use counters in the classroom to help solve maths problems.

Making maths teaching extraordinary

If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Dan, or come across his social media, one thing you’ll probably notice is his passion for Rich Learning. It’s the type of learning he was introduced to  at Hampshire College and something he believes every student deserves to experience.

Dan describes Rich Learning as a process of developing robust and connected networks of knowledge, skills and problem solving abilities. This happens when students become curious about something, struggle productively to understand it and own that experience.

In his TEDx Talk, Dan says ‘Not knowing is not failure. It’s the first step to understanding’. This is what Rich Learning is all about and is explained in the TEDx Talk below.

Maths Pathway and Dan

When it comes to education, particularly in mathematics, Maths Pathway is on the exact same page as Dan. We both believe that every student should have the opportunity to experience the joy of maths and we’re on a mission to make this happen, one classroom at a time.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Dan and Math for Love on a Rich Learning collaboration. Together we’ve designed three Rich tasks with lesson plans, instructional videos and all the resources you need to share them with your students. You can check out the series here.

If you’re interested in more free lesson plans, visit the Maths Pathway media library, the one stop destination for PD, school stories and free resources.

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