Learning to Love Math

Slowly but surely, I am learning to love math.

I recently read Jessica Lahey’s (@jesslahey) article in The Atlantic titled “Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate It.” The article led me to Steven Strogatz (@stevenstrogatz) and his work at Cornell, teaching math to non-math majors.

Three immediate takeaways:

1) Strogatz asks his students to write a math biography. What rich information this must provide him about his students and their experiences with math! With scaffolding, this could be so powerful for middle school students too. I would be interested in knowing how students felt about math, why they believe math is important and useful (or not), and how they use math in their everyday lives. To thicken the plot, it would be interesting (or maybe just crazy) to also ask students’ parents how they felt about math too. As a teacher, this provides great starting points for classroom discussion, and it also informs teaching (or at least you know what you’re up against) if you know you’ve got a roomful of math lovers or math loathers.

2) Strogatz explains the balance between inquiry-based learning and skill-and-drill based learning. You need both, just like playing an instrument:

“If we only teach conceptual approaches to math without developing skill at actually solving math problems, students will feel weak. Their mathematical powers will be flimsy. And if they don’t memorize anything, if they don’t know the basic facts of addition and multiplication or, later, geometry or still later, calculus, it becomes impossible for them to be creative. It’s like in music. You need to have technique before you can create a composition of your own. But if all we do is teach technique, no one will want to play music at all.”

3) An awesome resource I’ll be checking out over Thanksgiving: http://www.artofmathematics.org/

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