Welcome to “On Teaching and Learning Mathematics”

By The Editorial Board.

There are major changes afoot in both K-12 and postsecondary mathematics education.  For example, the widespread adoption of the Common Core State Mathematics Standards [5] has been a focal point for everyone involved in K-12 education in the United States.  The 2012 report Engage to Excel [4] from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) included substantial recommendations for experimentation and change in mathematics education, including at the undergraduate level for preservice teacher training.  A large and growing body of research [6] in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is demonstrating that undergraduate learning and achievement can be increased by implementing evidence-based teaching practices.  Funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation are responding to this seriously, for example through the Widening Implementation and Demonstration of Evidence Based Reforms (WIDER) program [7].

In parallel with these developments, calls for greater engagement by mathematicians in mathematics education at all levels are on the rise.  For example, Thomas Banchoff and Anita Salem wrote in 2002 [1] that “the challenge we face in the mathematics community is bridging the divide between… ‘the world of research’ in mathematics education and ‘the world of practice’.”  In a 2011 AMS Notices article [2], Sybilla Beckmann called for the creation of a more unified mathematics teaching community, stating that “mathematicians, mathematics educators, and teachers… bear collective as well as individual responsibility for improvement of the mathematics education system as a whole.”  The 2012 CBMS report The Mathematical Education of Teachers II [3] makes a similar call, stating that “more mathematics faculty need to become deeply involved in PreK-12 mathematics education by participating in preparation and professional development for teachers and becoming involved with local schools or districts.”

Another important example is The Mathematical Sciences in 2025 [8], a 2013 National Research Council report that was commissioned by the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation and funded through a $700,000 NSF award [9].  The report states that “it is critical that the mathematical sciences community actively engage with STEM discussions going on outside the mathematical sciences community and not be marginalized in efforts to improve STEM education.” Also discussed in this report are impending challenges facing university mathematics faculty, particularly in the wake of the aforementioned PCAST report; e.g., “the PCAST report should be viewed as a wake-up call for the mathematical sciences community… Change is unquestionably coming to lower-division undergraduate mathematics, and it is incumbent on the mathematical sciences community to ensure that it is at the center of these changes and not at the periphery.”  In general, the report states that “A community-wide effort to rethink the mathematical sciences curriculum at universities is needed.”

Given all this, what is a mathematician to do?  How do we equip ourselves to handle these new challenges, to become familiar with the existing research literature on teaching and learning, and to view teaching as the scholars we are?  Every mathematician wants their students to succeed at doing mathematics, to experience the joy of mathematical discovery, and to learn beautiful mathematics at a deep level.  However, the professional education of mathematicians is generally devoted to developing highly-refined scholarly tools for mathematics research.  With a few notable exceptions such as Project NeXT [10], the development of a scholarly approach to the teaching and learning of mathematics is often absent, and sometimes even discouraged.  The goal for this blog is to be part of the response to these challenges, to stimulate reflection and dialogue by providing mathematicians with high-quality commentary and resources regarding teaching and learning.

Because there is no simple solution to the problems facing mathematics education, this blog will serve as a big tent, giving voice to multiple contributors representing a wide range of ideas.  Contributions will range from practical “teaching tips,” to commentary on current mathematics education research, to discussions of social/curricular educational policy, and more.  Our focus will include both postsecondary and PreK-12 education, because mathematics education does not abruptly stop and start anew as students make institutional transitions.  Issues that affect both high- and low-achieving students will be addressed, as well as issues that affect students who are minoritized in their mathematical communities.  We welcome ideas for posts and pointers to interesting materials or events; please feel free to contact one of the editors or add your contributions in the comments.  

Stay tuned!

Acknowledgement: The editors would like to thank the American Mathematical Society for supporting and hosting this blog.

References

[1] Banchoff, T, and A Salem. “Bridging the divide: Research versus practice in current mathematics teaching and learning.” Disciplinary styles in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Exploring common ground (2002): 181-196.

[2] Beckmann, Sybilla. “The community of math teachers, from elementary school to graduate school.” Notices of the AMS 58.3 (2011).

[3] Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (2012). The Mathematical Education of Teachers II. Providence RI and Washington DC: American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America.

[4] Engage to Excel.  Report to the President from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), January 2012. http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/pcast/docsreports

[5] Common Core State Standards, www.corestandards.org

[6] Singer, Susan R, Natalie R Nielsen, and Heidi A Schweingruber. Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. National Academies Press, 2012.

[7] http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=504889

[8] National Research Council. The Mathematical Sciences in 2025. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013.

[9] http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=0911899&HistoricalAwards=false

[10] http://archives.math.utk.edu/projnext/

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2 Responses to Welcome to “On Teaching and Learning Mathematics”

  1. Avatar Tracy says:

    I am a former middle school math teacher who left teaching in the late 90’s when NCLB was just rearing it’s ugly head. As my children have grown older, I started looking into going back to teaching, only to discover this thing called Common Core. I will be very interested in your views on this topic. Very glad to have stumbled upon your blog.

    • Avatar Ben Braun says:

      Thanks for the comment! All the editors are definitely interested in the Common Core Standards, from various perspectives. We expect to include articles about topics related to the CCSSM in the future.

      Our plan is to publish a new post roughly every 10 days or so; anyone can sign up for email notifications when new articles are posted by clicking on the “Follow” tab in the lower right-hand corner of your browser.

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