Mathematics faculty from around the state gathered at Chandler-Gilbert Community College on Friday, October 6 to consider “Teaching Mathematics in 2017 and Beyond”. The conference featured three keynote speakers, Dr. Ted Coe, Dr. Francis Su, and Dr. Pat Thompson who were tasked to challenge participants to consider the role that mathematics faculty play in developing mathematical literate students.
Dr. Coe’s address was titled Mathematics Education: Issues and Trends Across the States and he delivered just that. Some of the trends are not healthy trends for mathematics students and Ted concluded his presentation by challenging us all to make a difference where we have influence…our classrooms! Consider how we can positively influence our students to experience the learning of mathematics such that they believe that:
- Math is coherent and founded on relationships of ideas.
- Math is logical and systematic
- Math is about authentic problem solving
- Math is relevant to everyone
- Math is about constructing knowledge
- Math is available to anyone willing to make the effort.
- My achievement depends on my persistence.
Dr. Su followed up with an inspiring message entitles Mathematics for Human Flourishing. Francis argued that the learning of mathematics ought to include the basic human desires of:
- Use Structure and Freedom
- Make Room for Investigation, Surprise, Imagination
- De-emphasize grades
- Encourage reflection: “What have you learned in this class about the process of doing or creating mathematics?”
- Make reflection a regular part of your class: “What do you think is beautiful about math and why?” “Is it amazing to you that math is ‘unreasonably effective’?
- Motivate beauty in multiple ways: art, music, diverse cultural sources, patterns, elegant proofs, application.
- Truth – with a focus on rigorous thinking
- Check out the “Math Feed” app where you can get news related to mathematics
- Justice – be someone’s advocate!
- The voice of a student: Since I’ve been back I’ve struggled with math. Calculus has really beat me up. After a 20 year break from it I’m finding it harder to relearn, finding it impossible to imagine I was ever really good at this. But even in the pain and failure of trying to reshape my brain to comprehend, I feel more alive than I ever have before.
Dr. Pat Thompson shared part of a research project where he investigated mathematical content knowledge of teachers in the US and South Korea and he challenged us with the idea that You Must Think Outside Your Classroom to Act Wisely in Your Classroom. Even when teachers have strong mathematical meanings that they wish to convey to students (intended meanings), students often walk away with different meanings (conveyed meanings). For example, suppose a teacher is working with students to convey the meaning of the expression “– – x”. The teachers may have rich, robust meanings that they intend to convey as they claim “– – x = x”. However, students may determine “If you see more than one minus sign, write it without any minus signs.” Pat stressed the importance of both teacher’s meanings and student’s opportunities to make meaning. After sharing several examples of mathematical meanings held by US and South Korean teachers, Pat suggested the following long-term solution for supporting the improvement of teacher’s and student’s mathematical meanings: Create sustainable conditions that support (1) school students’ development of coherent mathematical meanings and ways of thinking, and (2) support college mathematics instructors’ attempts to extend them. In the short term, Pat provided five foci:
- Professional development focused on teachers’ mathematical meanings for the mathematics they teach
- Professional development focused on ways that students create mathematical meaning from instruction
- Intensive and sustained improvement of future high school teachers’
- mathematical preparation for the mathematics they will teach
- Politics: Garner political support for the above
- Politics: Stop blaming teachers for the problems in school mathematics. They take their college mathematics from mathematics departments.