Author Archives: Paul Reimer

Play is Risk-Tolerant

I recently read the following claim in a piece from the creative folks at KQED Mindshift:

“Up to 70 percent of the tasks in most jobs are on track to be automated, leaving only the most creative, empathetic, technically fluent, collaborative work for humans. Students need to find motivation and meaning, and take a playful attitude that makes it safe to try and fail” (emphasis added).

This excerpt says a lot about how human work differs than work that can be automated by using a few important words: creative, empathetic, collaborative, motivation, meaning, playful attitude, try and fail. We all intuitively know that play is an important part of how we interact in the world. If we paused for a moment in the midst of whatever work we’re involved in, we might be able to think of several ways we engage in playful activity. And if we talked with each other about our play preferences, we would find points of convergence and divergence. What is play for some may not be play for others. This is one of the reasons the concept of play is difficult to define.

I think the impetus for the above claim is the question of whether playfulness and schooling are compatible. In other words, if collaborative, creative, and empathetic work is reserved for humans, what are the learning and teaching interactions that foster a playful attitude in learners? And what implications can be suggested for mathematics classrooms?

One implication relates to the learning environment. If learning environments support trying and failing -if they support risk-taking- then motivation and meaning are more likely to follow. I don’t believe motivation is something that needs to be drummed up or produced artificially. When we enter into environments that promote various ways of thinking and honor our curiosity, we’re more motivated to engage in activity. If consequences are suspended and we are free to try and fail, we’re more likely to come up with creative solutions to whatever problems we encounter. Environments are not static entities that remain unchanged as a result of our interactions; rather, the ways we interact with others, with materials, and within the constraints of our environment, influence the nature of the environment itself. In other words, the environment changes alongside participants.

I’ll suggest further ways mathematics classrooms can become spaces where playful attitudes are encouraged and fostered in future posts. If you have any suggestions or ideas from your own experiences in learning and teaching environments, feel free to share in the comments.


Learning is Moving in New Ways

I recently attended the Psychology of Mathematics Education conference in Indianapolis. While at the conference, I participated in several sessions with a workgroup that is interested in exploring how the ways we move our bodies influence our cognition. This concept of embodied cognition theorizes how learning to move in new ways can form the basis… Continue Reading


Our early math team is excited to be engaging with preschool teachers in thinking together about mathematics teaching and learning in preschool classrooms. One of the ways we have structured our work together is through the lens of partnership. Think for a moment about what it means to work as a partner. What comes to… Continue Reading

Teaching is Listening

Last week, our Early Math Team here at the AIMS Center partnered with Fresno EOC Head Start to spend a day devoted to children’s mathematics. I had the privilege of sharing a few thoughts at the beginning of the day to help shape our time and work together over the coming year. In this keynote,… Continue Reading

Idea Generators

I just returned from two weeks of study at Michigan State University as part of my PhD program in Education. My study related to qualitative research purposes and methodologies. I gained experience in writing field notes, conducting interviews, collecting data, and describing and analyzing observations. Although much of this work requires taking notes, this is… Continue Reading

Telling Stories

Our early math team has just finished up our work at several preschool sites for this school year and we’ve been reflecting on our experiences thus far. In conversations with teachers about what we’ve learned and how this experience has deepened our understanding of children’s mathematics, we’ve told lots of stories about particular children that… Continue Reading

Traveling Practices

Our work as learners, educators, and researchers takes us into spaces where we encounter new ideas, people, and experiences. We may enter schools, classrooms, faculty lounges, community centers, or other places of learning where we hope to better understand the patterns of interaction among individuals we meet. While our attention may be on what we… Continue Reading

Oh, the Possibilities

Our early math team continues to explore what might be possible for young children in the context of number development and play. We recently designed a linear board game called “Frog Splash” to help preschoolers begin to count the hops of a frog as it nears a swimming hole. After trying this game with children,… Continue Reading

Play Can Be Hard Fun

In a previous blog post, I asked several questions related to the work of our early childhood mathematics team: What teacher knowledge is needed in order to enhance adult-child interactions and help children learn the most in play contexts? What experiences can support preschool teachers in deepening their knowledge of children’s mathematical thinking and the… Continue Reading

Making the Most of Mathematical Play

If you have been following our early math team’s work with three- and four-year-olds, you’ll know that we’re exploring the ways children develop knowledge and understanding in the context of mathematical play. We’re not interested in “social knowledge”, or the kind of knowledge that requires transmission from one person to another. Rather, we’re engaged in… Continue Reading