You might think your student is distracted from their work when you see them doodling. You may even remember being bored in school yourself and doodling all over the page. Your student might be doodling because they’re distracted or bored, but they can still benefit from it, especially from math doodling. Math-focused doodling can help your child in so many ways. Not only can doodling help math make sense, but it allows your student to discover math concepts on their own and even derive enjoyment from math.
Math Doodling Benefits
1) It Make Math Concepts More Clear
One of the most noticeable benefits of math doodling is its ability to make math concepts more clear. This is due to the visual nature of doodling. Doodling allows students to take a subject generally considered complex, and represent it in a simple, understandable visual form. YouTube mathematician, Vi Hart, discusses this in the video “The Smoothest Ride.”
Hart transforms Calculus into simply “Lookin at slopes” by using doodles. Hart does this by doodling what happens during a car ride when you accelerate, slam on the brake, and are subsequently jerked in your seat. Hart points out that people “have an intuition for calculus,” but most people don’t realize this until they can visually see it.
This visual element of doodling is extremely important in the learning process. Visual learning forces students to use different parts of their brain than learning using numbers and symbols. This gives students an opportunity to derive creative solutions to math problems. Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford, claims that “Pictures help students see mathematical ideas…Visual mathematics also facilitates higher-level thinking, enables communication and helps people see the creativity in mathematics.” (Source) When your student is doodling, they are gaining a clearer, visual understanding of math.
2) It Promotes Self-Discovery
Another benefit of math doodling is that it promotes self-discovery. When your child is doodling, they start discovering rules and patterns. In the video “Doodling in Math Class: Stars,” Vi Hart shows how something as simple as doodling stars can turn into discovering the rules of factoring. Doodling might even allow a student to gain a firmer understanding of the material than being taught it from another source.
This process of self-discovery is crucial to your child’s learning experience. The more often your child is given the opportunity to discover an answer on their own or to learn a concept by trial and error, the more likely they are to retain what they’ve learned. Self-discovery gives your student a feeling of ownership over the knowledge that they have gained because it came from their own insight and intuition. As Dr. Boaler says, “When students are given opportunities to ask their own questions and to extend problems into new directions, they know mathematics is still alive, not something that has already been decided.” Math doodling gives your child this opportunity to ask questions and discover new, wondrous things about math.
3) It Brings Joy to Students
The most perceptible advantage of math doodling is the joy it brings students. Sometimes children have a negative perception of math. However, doodling is something your child chooses to do for fun. Math doodling makes math compelling. Your child may not initially see how their doodles relate to math. Maybe they’ve decided to doodle squiggles all over the page, but as ViHart says:
This is why I love mathematics. The moment when you realize something seemingly arbitrary and confusing is really part of something.
In school, I constantly doodled shapes. I would draw triangles, squares, and circles and see how many ways I could dissect them. If you had asked me then if I enjoyed geometry, I would have answered with a resounding no, but there I was having fun experimenting with geometric patterns. When I took my first college drawing class, I realized how much mathematics and art are entwined. I realized that doodling shapes and understanding their relationships had helped me understand geometry. Now I could calculate the perfect place to put my focal point in my artwork or where to draw a figure in the foreground. I was doing math without even realizing it, and I liked it too!
So let your child doodle. Let them draw squiggles and stars all over the page. It may seem like they’re playing games or ignoring their work. But maybe your child is discovering something new and fascinating. Maybe they are finding their own way to make math make sense and to make math fun! They might not even see the mathematics yet, but now you know it’s there waiting to jump out at them from the page.