The Communication Revolution, an article by Susan Boone, describes her experience as a participant in the Math Forum's Bridging Research and Practice project. You will find a reproduction of her article below.
Communicating across cultures, across time, and across the country has been revolutionized through modern technology. Because of the communication revolution, teachers from all over the county can rely on each other for support and cooperative reflection to improve their teaching.
Have you ever wondered whether the way you teach is the best way? There is no lack of debate regarding methods in mathematics education. Decisions must be made for algorithms vs. student understanding, back-to-basics vs. problem solving, or teaching through lectures vs. group work. As a mathematics teacher, I often feel pulled and stretched to go several directions at once. Recently, I became a part of a group of seven mathematics teachers from around the country who work together in a National Science Foundation project hosted by TERC, called Bridging Research and Practice (BRAP). We collaborate jointly and with researchers from Math Forum, an online math resource also funded by the National Science Foundation, to address the questions that so many math teachers ask themselves daily.
During the last year the teachers and researchers of the BRAP Project have spent time together face-to-face in workshops, participated in conversations through email and virtual meetings, read research articles online and in print, shared videotapes of our classrooms via the Internet, and talked about our teaching. Much of the communication we engaged in would never have been possible without today's technology. Through our discourse, we have built a trust between one another that has allowed us to share our successes as well as our failures.
For example, each of us teachers presented a similar problem in our classes:
Experiment with Volume
Form two cylinders from a rectangular piece of paper, one by joining the long sides, one by joining the short sides. Which of these cylinders will have greater volume, or will they hold the same amount?
Via the Internet, we studied video clips of students in each others' classrooms, explored teaching practices, and discussed how to encourage mathematical thinking. As we shared videos made in our classrooms of our teaching practice, our confidence sometimes gave way to doubt, raising the question: "How do I know if I'm doing this right?" Through discussion, we have learned that improvement in teaching is never finished, but collaboration, communication, and reflection on teaching help to make us more effective teachers in the classroom. Technology let us capitalize on our communication by making possible midnight chats online, email messaging, and digital video.
Our conversations and writing during this project led us to reflect on our lessons, consider possibilities for improvement, and identify potential difficulties. Focusing on the same problem in each of our classes enabled us to examine how our own interaction with our students contributes to the student's abilities to think mathematically. Although we teach students at different levels of mathematical knowledge, we find that the issues we face as teachers are similar: how to help our students formulate questions, how to teach problem solving, how to provide students with the tools they need. We have also learned that the solutions to these problems are many, and that they become clearer when we have the opportunity to think them through with our colleagues.
The results of our research have developed into an online videopaper, Encouraging Mathematical Thinking: Discourse around a Rich Problem. (http://mathforum.org/brap/wrap/) Other teachers who are interested in using collaboration, communication, and reflection as tools for professional growth are invited to join in our conversation. There is a link to an online discussion from every page of the videopaper.
In addition, we encourage professional development staffs and teacher educators to encourage their constituents to become involved in our collaboration. We invite you to join us and teachers from other classrooms to use technology to its fullest potential to deepen our understanding of mathematics, teaching, and learning.
Susan Boone teaches Algebra 1 and 2 at St. Agnes Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school in Houston. She is currently working on BRAP with the Math Forum and is a master teacher for GirlTECH, a technology-training course that also explores innovative teaching strategies that impact equity in the classroom.
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