Date: Jun 26, 1995 10:56 AM
Author: Marsha Landau
Subject: literature analogy

On Sat. 6-24, Bill Schuth wrote:
>Regardless of how well developed the reading skills of one's students
>are, it would not be possible to spend time on all of the significant works
>in the human experience. For that reason, the literature teacher should:
> 1) provide students with experiences which prove to them that
> literature is valuable and enjoyable.
> 2) teach students the skills necessary to successfully analyze
> and criticize others' works.
> 3) give students the opportunity to attempt to generate and
> experiment with various styles of writing.
>Are these not similar to what a mathematics teacher should be doing?

I sincerely hope the analogy holds. I just finished "teaching" a course in
Mathematics for Elemetary School Teachers. Eleven weeks, four contact
hours per week, in ONE dose, Mondays, 4:30-8:30 pm. If anyone expected the
course to "cover" all of elementary school mathematics (whatever that
means), disappointment was certain. Yet the students had experiences that
persuaded them that mathematics was interesting and valuable, and that they
could engage in it successfully. They often worked in cooperative groups
and made great strides in their ability to ask questions that elicited
explanations of reasoning and to explain their own reasoning to others.
They engaged in solving problems that ranged from examining the question
"when you change a fraction to a decimal, and you know it will not
terminate, what is the maximimum number of decimal places you might have to
carry out the division steps before the repeating pattern begins?" to
non-routine problems like the "Locker Problem," to real-world problems like
those in "PACKETS" for middle school grades. They made and investigated
conjectures, argued about their solutions (e.g., to the "Monty's Dilemma"
problem), made connections within mathematics (e.g., the triangular numbers
popped up every few weeks) and to other domains of knowledge, and did a lot
of writing.

My goal was to get them started on lifelong learning in mathematics and for
them to have some experiences as students to give them a feel for what it
might be like to implement the Standards.

Many (unfortunately, not all) of the students were amazed at how much their
attitudes and beliefs about mathematics could change in one term. They
found it liberating to discover that math is not an ability one must be
born with, that mathematics can be understood, that they are entitled to
ask "why?" when a math teacher shows and tells "how to," that math is about
patterns and relationships more than it is about getting the one right
answer by executing the one right computational algorithm.

When these students go on to their "Elementary Math Methods" course, I
don't think they will have any trouble seeing the potential value of
implementing the NCTM Standards in their classrooms. Unlike some of the
"math smarties" on this list, they were the casualties of traditional math
teaching in the past. It didn't work for them. Hopefully, they will build
on their recent positive experiences, not get completely discouraged
watching traditional stuff again as student teachers, and become competent
instructional leaders in math in their own classrooms over the next several

Standards-based improvements will take time.


Marsha Landau
Associate Professor, Mathematics Education
National-Louis University
2840 Sheridan Rd
Evanston, IL 60201