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August 29, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 24
Table of Contents
Math Class Through the Looking Glass
All too often, math teachers sit in silent complicity when it is said that math is exact and linear—humanities are not. Math is about answers that are right and wrong—humanities are not. If math teachers don't interrupt the status quo, who will? To challenge conventional thinking about mathematics education, consider sharing and starting a discussion with colleagues around this narrative from an alternate universe:
In my humanities class, I learn that there is only one correct way to spell a word—my teacher says that spelling is not a matter of opinion. My teacher tells me to identify the word in a sentence that is a pronoun—apparently there are words that are pronouns and ones that aren't. I am told that there are fragments and there are complete sentences, and the difference is clear. If I am talking about a novel we have read, I have to tell the facts in the exact order they happened. There are rules for how you are supposed to use commas and apostrophes. I have to capitalize some words and not others—as if that really makes a difference in being understood most of the time. Those are the rules, I am told. People seem to care that I know what capital city belongs to what country, and you can't mix those up! My teacher says that some books are too hard for us to read, and some books are too easy for us, because you are supposed to read certain books at a certain age—it's developmental.
My math class is where I really get to think. Here's some of the stuff I have done:
My math teacher says humanities classes could be fun too, but mostly they are taught like math classes that did only number-crunching, right-and-wrong drills. He says humanities classes could be filled with opinions, creative writing, lots of discussions, and using evidence to back up our own theories. Yeah, right.
With this scenario in mind, think of ways you might flip stereotypes about mathematics teaching and learning on their head. Ask your colleagues and students to consider how to invite mathematical thinking through inquiry and employing a variety of strategies to grapple with real-world problems that don't have clear answers.
Jeffrey Benson is an education consultant and school coach. He is the author of the forthcoming ASCD book Hanging In: Working with Challenging Students (January 2014). He wrote the article "100 Repetitions" in the October 2012 issue of Educational Leadership magazine.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 24. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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