Thursday, February 4, 2016

What is Maths?

For the past several year I have defined maths as the science of pattern and the art of making sense. This definition has probably developed as a response to the still somewhat prevalent view that maths, at least at the elementary school level, is the study of numbers.

I have tried to operationalize this idea by having student look at maths from many different angles especially from the aesthetic and relational points of view. I have included the study of fractals in my courses because I feel they epitomize the idea of numerical patterns and relationships which are so important as we try to get children to remember concepts, ideas and factual information.

I have read much by Jo Boaler and other illuminaries who believe that maths should be taught the way I believe it should be but I have never read anything quite as clear and eloquent as this piece by John Seibert of the Math learning Center, publisher of the wonderful Bridges Math Program.

The analogy of  defining maths as the study of numbers and comparing it with literature as the study of the alphabet is absolutely brilliant in its simplicity and absurdity. Numbers, like letter, are simply some of the things we use to convey meaning and communicate with.  And this sentence, "Perhaps it is through the lens of patterns that math can transcend the procedures that have come to define it" is exactly what we should be helping young children do.  Seibert then concludes with this masterstroke, "After all, when we teach our students their ABCs we expect them to one day write their own papers and poems. In teaching our students their 123s, shouldn’t we support the same creativity?".

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