is daydreaming good when studying math and algebra?

Updated – August 29, 2020

I came across a Wall Street Journal article with the headline that read, “Wandering Mind Heads Straight Toward Insight,” and the sub headline read, “Researchers Map the Anatomy of the Brain’s Breakthrough Moments and Reveal the Payoff of Daydreaming.”

Here’s the question we need to ask: Are we giving students enough time to daydream?

One of my design students once said that “getting a good idea is like catching a fly.”  I’ve caught flies out of the air, which requires concentration and an ability to relax and go with your intuition. Consider this example in the WSJ article. Rene Descartes who, while lying in bed watching flies, realized that he could describe a fly’s position by coordinate geometry. The point the article made is that finding a good idea requires putting the problem in front of you and then letting your mind wander.

In the WSJ article we read, “our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts…” One researcher suspects that, “the flypaper of an unfocused mind may trap new ideas and unexpected associations more effectively than methodical reasoning.”

Insight favors a prepared mind, which means that we still need to work out a solution. But then, after we have looked at different options, perhaps writing them down, we should forget about the problem and let our minds wander.

If we want our math classes to succeed, we should encourage students to approach problems insightfully – with discipline, of course – but also with the freedom to nurture questions, and let the questions swirl around in their thoughts and even daydream about them a little.

Oh, one more thing, researchers have found that “People in a positive mood are more likely to experience an insight.” What we are thinking beforehand affects how we handle a problem. This is a reason why a cartoon precedes each math and algebra lesson in Elevated Math. The cartoons help relax students, putting them in a positive mood to solve problems.