Being a gatekeeper to play and learning

I sometimes struggle in this role as a gatekeeper to other people's play, and a gatekeeper to other people's learning. 

I think the tension exists between being both a teacher and an educator. I'm a teacher by qualification, professional experience, and by general perception of what a teacher is

But the term educator resonates most because, while teaching is an important part of the role, I spend most of my time helping other people learn 

Here's the teacher side of me: I get excited to share the cool, beautiful and useful observations I've made about number that I think it will be helpful for children to know.  I love teaching. And I love learning from teaching. I often overplan - but am becoming much more skilled at knowing how long it takes to explore, learn, and allow children to get through the pressing work of children. 


Meanwhile the educator in me know how important it is to 'hold back from telling'. I design and set up learning environments. I think about questions to ask that will spark curiosity, create mathematical relevance, connect students socially, and motivate learning. I think about what students already know and can do and I think about how to mobilise that knowledge, skills and values across groups.

I connect with other educators and we explore and discuss how to engage all learners and help repair the broken hearts of mathematics. I remember hearing Ewan McIntosh speak about a good maths story and problem to explore involving Zombies... he described that giving away of too much too soon is akin to ruining the punchline of a good joke. It's a bit of a waste... And so, yea — I try to hold back.

These are not easy juggles. But they're getting easier. Especially when you see the satisfaction in the eyes of learners when they overcome a challenge. The cogs are turning and they're building their own mathematical and number power.

My favourite way to work on this problem is to hear from students, teachers and other educators. I’m not too sure how can anything change without an open dialogue? Everyone has a maths story and shouldn't this be a place to start when crafting 'a plan'?

In the words of a Year 2 student I met recently: ‘I like maths at home….[his eyes light up as he shares things we explores independently about mathematical geography]. But at school I only learn stuff I already know.’  

In the words of a Year 8 student I met recently: ‘My teacher here is so supportive. He helps me find strategies to access the maths so that I can engage in it. I feel successful in this class.’ 

In the words of a classroom teacher I met recently: ‘While I want to have a plan, I’m also flexible and will let the student interests help to guide our mathematical travels’  

In the words of a parent I met recently: ‘The most surprising thing about this program is seeing [my daughter] re-engage in maths.’  

I enjoy learning about myself, how I work, my strengths and areas for growth. Better still I enjoy learning about who and what of students, and other teachers, educators and school leaders who are orbiting schools. I love learning with and from their life experience, interests, the challenges they’ve overcome or are still navigating, and the stories of support that they can share with others.  

I'd like to extend a big thanks to everyone who has been involved in Maths Play activities since March 2023 when this humbled project officially launched. We are learning plenty with and from you, and from the research being conducted in schools and homes.

Since writing this piece, Maths Play has started some dedicated thinking what it means to be an effective mentor and why we all need good maths mentors throughout life.

If you have a personal or professional anecdote or perspective that you'd like to share about maths mentorship, please feel free to share it to [email protected]

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Maths Play acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we live, learn and work, and pay our respects to Elders past and present. Maths Play is dedicated to learning and operating in ways that acknowledge, respect, celebrate and learn from the original and beautiful cultures of these lands.