Week 4: Why Teach Anything? The Point of Teaching Math

This week, we read an article and listened to a podcast that detailed much of what we read. It dealt with reason and sense making and why we need to focus on it. There were ideas of how to incorporate it into the curriculum, but the largest issue might be that reasoning is not something you can teach. It’s like the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water…”. Making sense of problems and approaching them from a logical angle could work, but reasoning is a whole other creature.

In a perfect world, we  could insert reasoning and sense making without an issue. However, it is not a perfect world. They do bring up great points, and I think the main takeaway is that something has to change and the only way to kick-start that change would be for everyone to work together and address the issues at hand with regard to mathematics at the high school level.

There was one particular idea that I’m glad they brought up. High school students come from a variety of backgrounds. Every classroom is different, containing varying levels of abilities and students from different backgrounds. Some students, especially minorities, will be placed in lower level math courses under the assumption that they may not be attending college. Therefore, they do not receive the same opportunities to learn as another student in a higher level course. The idea of equality in the classroom in reference to obtaining the same learning opportunity is spot on. Otherwise, we will continue to perpetuate an idea of a “math type”. (Sort of like setting “math people” aside, continuing this idea that you are inherently good or bad at math.) Such attitudes need to be turned around, at least in my opinion. It is not fair to strip educational opportunities from anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Education is not an exclusive club.

I came across a post this week about why we should teach mathematics. Mostly, it was a conversation starter. The author gave their own reasons, but also inquired about other reasons from the readers. Mostly, I believe we should teach math for the sake of teaching it. I feel like we have taken a turn for usefulness. We only care about those things that are completely useful to us. If we cannot instantly benefit, then we don’t care. Learning for the sake of learning seems to be a thing of the past. For example, why do we read Shakespeare? Why do we read Huck Finn? Why do we read Frankenstein? Why do we read anything? For the pure enjoyment of it. For the culture that surrounds it. For understanding. The same thing goes for math. We should teach it because it offers another dimension to understanding the world around us. It doesn’t exist to torture unsuspecting students. We should teach it for the beauty of it. That may not be enough reason for some, but it is for me.

It really got me thinking about what other people might think about why we teach math. I think this question resides on more of an individual level.

Here is the link to the article, (with my comment toward the bottom):

http://davidwees.com/content/why-teach-math

Continuing with the equality idea, I saw a few things that I liked on Twitter dealing with gender bias in STEM classrooms. And, being a female in math, I agreed with many points. The most important part, though, was the fact that we think this bias is dwindling with our generation, but it is just as present. (And history repeats itself.) Though, I’m also inclined to be wary of the article, if only because it was a woman who wrote it. So, the article about bias is, potentially, biased. In any case, I present you with the article:

http://www.vox.com/2016/2/17/11030292/male-classmates-smarter-women-stem-sexism

I believe that is all for this week! Let me know if you have any thoughts!

 

 

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2 comments

  1. David Wees · February 22, 2016

    So I think you have an excellent point here.

    If this is your goal:

    “For the pure enjoyment of it. For the culture that surrounds it. For understanding. The same thing goes for math. We should teach it because it offers another dimension to understanding the world around us. It doesn’t exist to torture unsuspecting students. We should teach it for the beauty of it. That may not be enough reason for some, but it is for me.”

    How does this inform your teaching of the subject? How will you know if you’ve met your goal?

    Like

    • Rebecca · February 22, 2016

      Most of the time, teaching seems to be very “to the book”. The goal seems to be to get through the book and to meet whatever standards given. Students should be able to explore the topics they are interested within a mathematical setting. As teachers, we should be there to guide that interest. Yes, the basics need to be taught, but they should be introduced in a way that shows how it is connected to the world around the student. Teaching from the angle of understanding seems to give mathematics more of a purpose for newer generations of students who place utility over exploration.

      If I am able to awaken an interest within my students, then I know I have met that goal. For example, if a student was intrigued by a topic and went on to research it on their own to find out more because they found it interesting, then I know I was able to give them the spark they needed to take that leap. I want to be able to ignite interest within students so that they enjoy coming to class, enjoy learning math, and want to explore on their own. Teaching math in a way that introduces students to a different way of learning, perhaps through projects geared toward real world applications and connections should allow for a renewal of interest.

      In all, taking the idea of teaching for the purpose of understanding the world could lead to various avenues for students to explore on their own and see purpose and usefulness within a subject that many do not believe has much usefulness in the real world, especially when topics seem to be so disconnected.(We see this attitude with algebra. Many don’t think it is useful.) Seeing the “aha!” moment written all over a student’s face when everything clicks is another indicator that they seem to understand something.

      Like

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