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Subject:   getting the research discussion going
Author: George
Date: Jan 29 2004
Hi Ihor,

It's great that your nephew has found what interests him. One question that's
still a problem for mathematics is how much of it a person should know, and of
what kind? Reading is somewhat easier. Your nephew needs to be able to read to
follow his interest in history. But how much mathematics and of what kind should
we all know?

That leads to your second point about conversations on research. Here's what I
think.
1. Math education researchers write for other math education researchers.
There's a big disconnect with the practice of teaching. Few math teachers wait
anxiously for the next edition of JRME.
2. Math practice and "what works", which should be powerful topics for research,
remain controversial. Saxon "works". It raises test scores. Is that what we
want? So the foundational questions of what to study and how to study it remain
unanswered by a research community and are instead pursued through the
professional judgment of the teaching community. Teachers do look forward to the
next releas of "Mathematics Teacher" where they will get ideas that the can use
in their classroom.

Perhaps the two most separate fields of study at a university are mathematics
and mathematics education. The one with clear methods and results: mathematical
rigour and new theorems. And the other uncertain as to what the goals are and
how to get there. There are large collections of buzz words (constructivism
anyone?) and catch-phrases ("mathematics for all" who could oppose that? or
even "scientifically-based research"), but there still is fundamental
disagreement on core questions of what is important to learn and how to teach
it.

Ok, so why does conversation not pick up?
What Gene had in mind originally was a Slashdot model, where people responded
and engaged in moderated and reviewed conversation. That would be terrific if it
happens.

I see two types intense conversation going on in newsgroup forums: 1. Those
where people fight endlessly or advocate for causes. Math-Teach arguments are
an example, or advocacy sites like the Howard Dean blog.
2. Sites like Slashdot where people go to get ideas and information. These have
the additional component
of a broad-based peer review, like Amazon's book reviews.

So how do you get discussion going in research? Well, we haven't had much luck
discussing articles or reports. In retrospect, I don't think that should have
been surprising. Teaching is about getting things done, not developing theories.


I thought we could get a network of teachers doing action research and sharing
results in a forum like this, but that is not what evolves naturally. Instead, a
conversation around a particular tool, the Magic Squares, took place that was
very interesting, though limited to that one particular tool. I'm going to wrie
that up for the next "post" to start conversation.

On the other hand, maybe the topic what to talk about will itself generate
conversation. I see Gayla's post right now, and I would like to respond to that
too. :) So maybe we're off and running!

Cheers,
George

On Jan 28, 2004, ihor wrote:

George,
I just realized I never got back to you about my nephew's progress in the
algebra that I was helping him with. Well after some glimmer he did have a
breakthrough. He dropped the course. In the meantime he's a discovered a love of
history and can't seem to get enough of it. Thank you, History Channel. I guess
that is how things work out sometimes.

I see the research conversation has slowed to a crawl. Any thoughts on
alternative ways for doing this type of forum?

Best wishes,
Ihor


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