Sunday, January 23, 2011

Current Math Culture

Last spring, my school had a math consultant come in to evaluate our program. Below I post the introductory paragraph of his final report which seems to "hit the nail on the head" regarding our society's current math culture...

"Math teachers face a particularly daunting paradox. Mathematics is an inordinately complex web of logical connectives, whose mastery requires extraordinary powers of concentration, frequent repetition, the emotional stability to live with perplexity, and the self-discipline to accept the need for sequence and continuity; yet many, if not most, of today’s parents are unwilling to see their children struggle with this complexity, and discourage the kind of experimentation and risk-taking that might lead to “failure.” [Students]... everywhere, need to become risk-takers instead of automata obsessed with getting “the right answer.” Learning involves taking risks. This means being willing to “give it a go,” to guess, to estimate, to try a new and different way of doing things. The systematic and formal way in which mathematics is usually presented conveys an image of  the subject which is wildly at odds with the way it actually develops. Mathematical discoveries, conjectures, generalizations, counter-examples, refutations and proofs are all part of what it means to do mathematics. School mathematics needs to show the intuitive and creative nature of the process, and also the false starts and blind alleys, the erroneous conceptions and errors of reasoning which tend to be a part of mathematics. Children need to learn that lack of certitude and comfort with ambiguity are perfectly acceptable in the math classroom. Yet, while teachers rightly decry the lack of risk-taking in the older students, I would suggest that assessment methods themselves often discourage students from taking risks – [students]... may surely be forgiven for feeling that “the right answer” is paramount when their competence and progress is judged solely by graded homework assignments, quizzes, tests and exams."
- R. Michael McNaught

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree with the math consultant's message. I've found a web sit for a school district on California that offers lesson plans and best practices for teaching mathematics. Multiple representations, side by side comparisons, and relational thinking our just some of the methods used to make math more accessible to students.
I hope you like it.

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