Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thinking about Dan Meyer's TED

One of my colleagues sent me a link to Dan Meyer's TED this morning and if there's one thing a TED is good for it's to get you thinking about something. In this case it is High School Math and I must admit Meyer seems quite young for one with so much wisdom; but wisdom he has in abundance.  He has the ability to cut through the mathematical jargon as well as the tricks text book publishers use to get students to follow the prescribed steps to getting the right answer without really ever understanding what they are doing. His Two-and-a half men analogy is great.

One of the most accurate, critical points he makes is that we provide students with all the information they need as well as the steps required to solve a problem as if that is the way problems come to us in real life. Mathematical problems, he suggests, and exemplifies, should come to us through genuine inquiry where students need to identify what they need to know to solve a problem and then work out how to solve it. The art of the math teaher is to provide them with the mathematics that will help them do this. Mathematics, he says, is the "language of intuition".

What is so neat about what he is saying is that we need to help students think about what they are doing as opposed to following prescribed steps, mechanically and dispassionately. This is the same reason why I think rubrics have stopped student thinking in terms of how they are going to construct a paper. Half of the work in writing a term paper is learning how to construct it, how to put it together so that it presents one's learning in the best light. This is like reducing learning to painting by numbers; (paint all the 2s red and all the 3s green; make sure the paper has an opening, a body and a conclusion).

Meyer concludes by saying that we need "more patient problem solvers". I would add to that that we also need students to see math as relevant, interesting, motivating, and aesthetic. To to this we need to teach it this way.

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