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Topic: Teaching Mathematics as a Science

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Subject:   RE: Teaching Mathematics as a Science
Author: Craig
Date: Aug 8 2004
Like Alice, I feel compelled to respond to tpowers' comments about discovery
learning.  I won't defend discovery learning as Alice did (quite well); rather,
I want to ask a rhetorical question:  What is mathematics?

If, as tpowers claims, 97% of the population uses no more than 5th grade math,
then we (math teachers at middle school, high school, and college levels) should
put up our "gone fishing" signs.  It may well be true that, of the rote skills
students learn, the more advanced skills (algebra or trigonometry, for instance)
are used very rarely.  

However, I would wager that the students in Alice's class already know that
mathematics is SO MUCH MORE THAN those basic skills, just as English is so much
more than spelling.  Mathematics is a way of making sense of the world, a way of
organizing thought, even a way of recognizing beauty.  Sure, as a teacher I want
my students to get the skills down so they can do well on standardized tests,
but I would be derelict if I stopped there.  I want to help my students learn to
THINK in new and different ways; I want them to look at different sides of the
question; I want them to question.  NCTM's Principles and Standards (2000)
recognize and reinforce the idea that mathematics is not just content: it is
also PROCESS.  I am reminded of a "conversation in a bar" reported to me by a
math teacher colleague last week--a musician who claimed to be no good in
math, when prompted by my colleague, realized that math was everywhere around
him.  I'm sure the math he was describing was not fifth grade arithmetic!

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