Math is Play!

As a cell biologist who moved into the areas of computational science and teaching biologists about using computational methods to study and teach science, I am often assumed to have a strong math background. Despite my high-school accelerated classes (summer college courses), I just passed my college Calculus course. So, I gave up my thoughts on a career in mathematics. Fortunately, through intense and insistent conversations with computational scientists (mostly from physics) my colleagues and I create the conditions to make mathematics accessible and a place to play intellectually.

And doing research in math is, for most research mathematicians, a process of playing
around with ideas and figuring out new ways for them to fit together. It’s not different in
spirit from what kids do naturally in a setting like [The Museum of Math], where there are so many
things to play with. “Math is play!” - 
James Propp - in his recent post, Lessons of a Square-Wheeled Trike.

Many of us relate to math as a task. Something that we are either good or bad at. Yet, math, like other aspects of STEM is another way of exploring and playing with the world. It is this exploration and play that develops our competencies in an area.

Oh my, I've done it again. I used that four letter word, PLAY. It's important for us to grapple with (not necessarily agree, or change our position on) the relationship that play and passion have in our process of discovery and creativity in STEM fields. Play is more than willy-nilli-ness. It is the process of making and changing rules; of examining through experience, experiments and various lenses the world around us. Sounds a bit like science to me.

improvscience works with groups of STEM professionals in a variety of settings to develop their ability to discover and create new possibilities together. In other words, we help scientists create the play-space for rigorous scientific discovery.

 

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