“The Art of Playing:” Mook on What Matters to Him

This past Wednesday, Mathematics Teacher Ian Mook presented his “What Matters to Me and Why” on the “Art of Playing.”

This past Wednesday, Mathematics Teacher Ian Mook presented his “What Matters to Me and Why” on the “Art of Playing.” The event was hosted by the Religious Life Council and took place socially-distanced in the Edith Memorial Chapel, as well as over Zoom.

When Mook was first asked to speak, he said that he thought “nothing [he] experienced felt worthy enough to share with the community.” As a result, in his free time, such as on runs, he “thought a lot about what mattered to [him] and what to talk about.” He ultimately decided to speak about the meaning of “play.”

To begin his speech, Mook explained his various interpretations of the word “play,” drawing from his experiences both in and out of a classroom and reflecting on how they have shaped his perspective on his teaching and life today.

When he was in middle school, Mook said that he did not like going to school. “Classes, homework, exams, tests, papers, presentations—all of it just felt like work,” he explained. For him, recess was the “highlight of the day. Recess felt like play, while school just felt like work.”

As he grew older, Mook began developing his own interpretations of what it means to play. His experience playing with Legos led him to discover two main forms of play: “lowercase ‘p’ play, and uppercase ‘P’ Play.” According to Mook, “lowercase ‘p’ play meant being more noncommittal, a little more passive, and a little more rote…However, with uppercase ‘P” Play, there’s an element of creativity, spontaneity, [and,] most of all, an element of personal investment.”

In eighth grade, Mook was first able to experience the feeling of “Play” in his algebra class. Finding the ability to play in an academic setting was liberating. “It was the beginning of how I saw the notion of ‘play’ as not playing outside on the fields during recess...but actually in the academic realm as well,” he said.

Mook then explained how he decided to major in math in college after falling in love with the feeling of playing with math in middle school. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree at Williams College and his Master’s of Education degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Mook became a teaching fellow at Lawrenceville. On why he turned to education, Mook said, “I wanted to find a way to show others about the kind of play I experienced.”

As he returned to speaking about the topic of “playing,” Mook clarified, “I keep talking about play. Oftentimes, when we think about the notion of play, we think about kids and whimsical, silly tasks, but I don’t mean that at all. Play can take many different forms.”

Mook concluded his speech by reflecting on how his mindset has affected his way of thinking, “I don’t think I’m all that different from when I was in middle school—work still feels like work. I’ve just found more spaces where I feel like I can play, and to share that play with those around me.

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