Here's from a thread on another list connected with the Linus Pauling boyhood home here in Portland.
Barbara, a former high school teacher (Cleveland High) invokes John Saxon which I think is interesting, as I was casting Wayne as part of the loyal opposition to my approach.
Content-free means no connection-- to life, to meaning, to anything interesting or exciting--and therefore no motivation to pursue or learn, except in those relatively rare students who love math problems for their own sake.
John Saxon wrote some really good algebra books (arithmetic, too, and I think a calculus book but I never looked at it), whose story problems involved classical history and other neat topics. Students constantly ask for connection to their own lives, and "pure" (meaning content-free) doesn't do that for most.
I like your approach, Kirby.
To: wwwanderers From: kirby urner Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2011 11:09:37 -0700 Subject: [wwwanderers] thinking about story problems (math teacher thread)
I've been thinking we waste too much time on content-free story problems in math teaching.
Wayne Bishop, a chief of the Mathematically Correct tribe, thinks story problems should be "meaning free" because they're pointing to the underlying math content.
Anything "meaningful" would just be added spin and hence distracting from the task at hand: learning math.
In contrast to the "deliberately meaningless" camp is what is (usually derisively) referred to as Rainforest Math. At this end of the spectrum, the story problems clearly have a moral to teach, or are at least bringing up ethical questions, suggesting that a math class might have something to do with rhetoric or debate.
The brand of Digital Mathematics learning I promote tilts in the direction of Rainforest Math in the sense that its story problems are deliberately thematic and persistent, and come with pointers to many topics.
This could be considered a practical, applied, embedded, hands-on approach i.e. derisive terms are not necessary.
In the linked exhibit below, to a Google Group called mathfuture, I toss out at least the elements of a story problem. Like imagine you're with the Chinese Peace Corps and your job is to community-organize in Detroit.
Of course I'm not suggesting Chinese speakers are exclusively well positioned to offer assistance to incompetently engineered cities that both waste much and want much.
I'd say we have lots of openings in the Global U for general systems theorists willing to take on some core challenges (including biospheric degradation caused by over-fishing, over-consumption and whatever).