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Re[2]: where's the math? so? (was Re: 5th Grade Activity)
Posted:
Apr 20, 1995 10:59 AM


_______________________________________________________________________________ Subject: Re: where's the math? so? (was Re: 5th Grade Activity) From: Janet V Smith <jansmit@cello.gina.calstate.edu> at internet Date: 4/19/95 8:22 PM
>Cathy, I found your post very interesting, and quite stimulating. I am >not at all sure I have the answer, but I have a couple gut level reactions. >One, I do not think our students manipilate objects in space enough to >develop spatial reasoning, flexagons does increase interest in this area. >Second, I think we need to really look at what is important to teach. Is >the algebra, geometry, algebra route really appropriate today? When will >our students learn all the new math that has evolved since world war II? >I think their future will require a lot more discrete math, and a lot >less of the traditional curriculum. As fast as technology is changing, we >need to quit teaching studetns for our future and start addressing >theirs. I realize your question was not delving this deep, but it did >stimulate me to think, thank you > >Janet Smith
Hi Janet. You make some interesting points. For another point of view, I'd like to quote from the opening paragraphs of a paper that will soon be published in the Journal of Mathematical Behavior. It was written by Al Cuoco, June Mark, and Paul Goldenberg (my bosses), and it's called "Habits of Mind: An Organizing Principle for Mathematics Curriculum." I am currently working trying to design a geometry curriculum around these ideas. (If you'd like a draft copy of the paper along with some other information about the geometry project, email me with your snail mail address and I'll get a packet in the mail to you.)
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Thinking about the future is risky business. Past experience tells us that today's first graders will graduate high school most likely facing problems that do not yet exist. Given the uncertain neeeds of the next generation of high school graduates, how do we decide what mathematics to teach? Should it be graph theory or solid geometry? Analytic geometry or fractal geometry? Modeling with algebra or modeling with spreadsheets?
These are the wrong questions, and designing the new curriculum around answers to them is a bad idea.
For generations, high school students have studied something in school that has been called mathematics, but which has very little to do with the way mathematics is created or applied outside of school. One reason for this has been a view of curriculum in which mathematics courses are seen as mechanisms for communicating established results and methodsfor preparing students for life after school by giving them a bag of facts ... Given this view of mathematics, curriculum reform simply means replacing one set of established results by another one (perhgaps newer or more fashionable) ...
There is another way to think about it, and it involves turning the priorities around. Much more important than the specific mathematical results are the habits of mind used by the people who create those results, and we envision a curriculum that elevates the methods by which mathematics is created, the techniques used by researchers, to a status equal to that enjoyed by the results of that research. The goal is not to train large numbers of high school studnets to be university mathematicians, but rather to allow high school students to become comfortable with illposed and fuzzy problems, to see the benefit of systematizing and abstraction, and to look for and develop new ways of describing situations. While it is necessary to infuse courses and curricula with modern content, what's even more important is to give students the tools they'll need to use, understand, and even make mathematics that doesn't yet exist.
If we really want to empower our students for life after school, we need to prepare them to be able to use, understand, control, and modify a class of technology that doesn't yet exist. That means we have to help them develop genuinely mathematical ways of thinking. Our curriculum development efforts will attempt to provide students with the kinds of experiences that will help develop these habits and put them into practice.



