Teaching Maths Like Music

Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key.

This sounds like the worse music class ever, doesn’t it?

Paul Lockhart argues that mathematics education is like this. For someone who loves math, our current classes are awful.

For me, maths is a wonderful activity. It’s an opportunity to get creative, to come up with my own problems, to get frustrated as the solution I’m crafting is getting too ugly, to get excited as a beautiful proof emerges. It’s something I enjoy watching others do. My breath is regularly taken away by an elegant proof or by an explanation that flows perfectly.

Most of us understand how people can fall in love with music… Yet when I tell my daughter that I love maths she just shakes her head, telling me I’m an alien. Because to her maths is about taking out her staff paper and copying some notes.

I wish her math curriculum had been closer to her music curriculum. That it encouraged creative exploration, that it fueled awe and wonder, that it recognized mistakes were something to be embraced on the way to greater creativity, and not something to systematically correct.

Watch Toby Hendy summarize Lockhart’s essay on YouTube.