Inventing (in) early geometry, or How creativity inheres in the doing of mathematics

Jean-Francois Maheux, Wolf-Michael Roth


Inventing is fundamental to mathematical activity, should one be a professional mathematician or a primary school student. Research on mathematical creativity generally is organized along three axes according to its focus on the final product, the overall process, or the individual person. Through these conceptualizations, however, research rarely considers how mathematical actions themselves are fundamentally creative. In an action-oriented perspective, every single act is recognized as creative, whereas discovery and invention emerge as the result of the incoming of the unexpected qua unexpected—which can take place at any moment in the most mundane, everyday action. In this article, we conceptualize mathematical actions as inherently creative of the activity within which professional mathematicians and primary school students experience (some) mathematics for a first time. To make our case, we develop the microanalysis of an exemplary episode of third-grade geometry (age 8-9 years) in which two children and an adult work with a tangram set. Our analysis characterizes inventing (in) geometry as a serendipitous, open-ended experience of working with traces in the receiving and the offering of something novel. In concluding, we propose considering that inventing in early geometry is also inventing geometry itself: an inventing-in-the-act which also result in being invented as a (professional or school) geometer

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