Activity: Does Anyone Know What Math Is?

Note to students working alone: In addition to just thinking about this stuff, you can ask another paraprofessional to do the activity too, and then you can talk about it as a group of two. Or you can discuss your data with your family or a friend.

Note to instructors: If this Unit is part of a workshop or course, the activity can be adapted so that students interview each other, or so that small groups discuss the activity after the teachers and students are interviewed.


Probably you’ve never asked yourself “What is math?” It’s a fun game though, because everyone stops short when they’re asked that question. Often they say, “Gee, that’s a good question!”  But everyone will also think of some kind of an answer.

So the assignment here is simple.

  • Ask five teachers “What is math?” and write down, in your own words, what they say.
  • Then ask five students, and write down their answers.

Think about:

  • similarities and differences in teachers’ answers
  • similarities and differences in students’ answers
  • similarities and differences in the answers that students’ and teachers’ give.
  • the words used in answers: are there any patterns that you can see?

What logical sense can you make of the answers on the basis of similarities and differences? In trying to make sense of the similarities and differences, you might want to:

  • Read or re-read the Unit 1 Overview.
  • Discuss your ideas with others: a colleague or a group of colleagues is particularly good. For one thing, a group of colleagues will have more data. For another, a group will have a variety of insights.

Finally: a question to ponder…

  • There’s math in this assignment. Where is it? (Describe the math-like things in it; again, it helps to talk with others, if possible).