Here are two conversations for which I have no patience at all…
- “They should know X”
- “You should teach X in manner Y.”
Conversation number 1 is the reason they are students, and the reason you are a teacher. What they should know is not relevant here; only what they do know is. So let’s factor that into our instruction.
But I need to focus on conversation number 2 today. EdSurge reposted an article today that struck me the wrong way. An excerpt:
Of course, the problem is deeper than a handful of students who accidentally say ironically stupid things. The problem is that American high school students are taught something named “math” for four years which is not even close to math.
Pretty sweeping generalization here. But I don’t disagree with the basic premise, which is that we aren’t doing the job of bringing mathematics to students (and students to mathematics) that we should be doing. I do disagree that the K-12 system is the only place this problem exists, but let’s get back to the matter at hand.
I fear my rant may disguise my true intentions: the problem is not the content. Geometry and calculus and algebra are very fine subjects of mathematics. The problem is that they’re taught in a way that strips out all the math and leaves a vapid husk of an education.
Now things are starting to spin a little bit out of control. Vapid husk of an education? Wow.
And the solution?
[I]f you give me an hour with a group of disillusioned but otherwise motivated high school students, I can teach them more mathematics than they have ever done in their entire lives. I can give them a dose of critical thinking and problem solving like no algebra problem can.
I teach at the college level these days, so I am accustomed to this sort of bravado. I try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to avoid it in my own writing because it is (a) unproductive, and (b) false.
But my beef isn’t so much with the author (although…) No, my beef is with EdSurge.
Why not feature the vibrant work that is going on in K—12 math education?
Why not republish Fawn Nguyen’s brilliant reformulation of a crappy textbook problem?
Why not post Andy Schwen’s video of a kid talking about the relationship between slope and rate of change while working on Function Carnival?
Why not feature the work of people trying to bring real mathematics to young children? Moebius Noodles, Math in Your Feet, Talking Math with Your Kids, Math Munch—these are projects where people are working on a daily basis to help parents, teachers and caregivers to support meaningful mathematical thinking for children. No bravado. No blame. Just hard working, thoughtful people working to solve a problem.
Because there is a problem. For sure there is a problem.
But an hour with Professor Awesome isn’t going to solve it.