Your Daily Wu: Teachers and Math Educators

Wu on teachers and mathematics educators

In March of 2008, I was passing through London’s Heathrow Airport and happened to catch sight of an ad by IBM: “Stop selling what you have. Start selling what they need.”

If we let “they” be our math teachers and math education professors, then this would be a pointed directive on what mathematicians need to do for school mathematics education: Get to know what they need, and teach it.

What i think he is saying

Mathematicians are the only ones capable of solving problems of teaching and learning mathematics. As such, they are duty bound to teach their colleagues involved in K-12 teaching and anyone who does not do original research in mathematics.

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7 responses to “Your Daily Wu: Teachers and Math Educators

  1. I don’t think Wu is saying what you think he’s saying.

    There are a lot of prospective teachers who need math instruction at the college level before they can legally teach a classroom. Most of those classes will be taught by mathematicians who, historically, have emphasized skills they themselves find important, not ones that teachers need to teach math. Wu has written paper after paper attacking his own people for that provincialism, including this one here. Why ding him for it?

  2. I concede that this is aimed mainly at mathematicians. But there is an underlying accusation that math educators (present company included) don’t know enough mathematics to make curricular decisions (hence the mess we are in).

    And there is a strong theme running throughout that not only should mathematicians step, but that they’re the only ones capable of doing so. See tomorrow’s Daily Wu for substantiation.

    By the way, Dan, I find it really interesting that you met him in Singapore. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall there. I can’t imagine he digs what you do, though. Am I wrong?

  3. I don’t know much about this topic, but it speaks to me on the level of our current debate in our curriculum council. We are attempting to move ALL our curriculum to standards-based grading and inquiry based instruction. We are doing this on the belief that what we’ve done for years has neither engaged nor instructed the majority of our students. We are finding that we have sold them (our students) what we have, not what they need.

    It seems that is what is being spoken of here, just up a level. Math educators (at least the ones I’m familiar with) know enough to teach skill and wrote mathematics – that’s what we HAVE. We NEED help in making it relevant; taking it up the taxonomy table. Making it fascinating to our students.

    I have no idea what Wu meant – the idea still resonates with me.

  4. It is a nice principle, isn’t it Laura?

    Perhaps you’ll get a better sense of what Wu thinks you and I need next week when we dive into Wu’s views on fractions.

  5. Christopher: But there is an underlying accusation that math educators (present company included) don’t know enough mathematics to make curricular decisions (hence the mess we are in).

    He’s speaking in generalities, not about you and me, and as a generalization he’s right. We have a tremendous deficit of content knowledge, particularly at the elementary level. That’s obvious to me and I’m someone who doesn’t get terribly twisted up over precision.

    Christopher: By the way, Dan, I find it really interesting that you met him in Singapore. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall there. I can’t imagine he digs what you do, though. Am I wrong?

    No, you’re basically correct. I’m pretty sure he slept through one of my presentations. He seems to think that coherence and precision are their own rewards, rather than preconditions for rewarding mathematical investigation. He was abrasive and certain of himself in a way that even I found off-putting, but also very well-intentioned. So I dunno. I might change my mind when I read the paper this weekend but your reading of him so far seems pretty ungenerous.

  6. Dan:

    I’m pretty sure he slept through one of my presentations.

    Right.

    And what I’m saying is that it wasn’t the jet lag. He’s there to fix the problem. He’s not curious about the problem, nor about possible solutions that are not his own.

  7. I have done 2 month-long workshops with Wu. Each was almost 10 summers ago. He spoke to Berkeley teachers yesterday and I must say, he has mellowed out A LOT in the past 8-10 years. If you think he’s abrasive now, you should have heard him then.

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