I enjoyed your article and it makes an important point. It’s a challenge to get students to see the meaning math, so it’s not just applying a bunch of meaningless algorithms.

]]>Going a bit deeper, what your comment says to me is that the same problem can be routine (for “unmathy” kids) or challenging, depending on the pedagogical context. Or: you cannot tell whether a question is a problem or not until you look at the context. The word ‘problem’ is a term for a relationship between a question and the person being asked the question.

]]>Even my most “unmathy” students can solve this type of problem if led gently into it.

]]>A personal frustration for me is the evolution of “the stories we tell.” In the 1960’s, as part of the “new math” movement, Egyptian and Mesopotamian arithmetic seemed to be part of every elementary school’s curriculum. (In fact, it was seen as being so interesting and important, that many of us saw it year after year.) And when “new math” went out of favor, replaced by “back to basics” (I believe), these stories were deemed unimportant for young students, and so were no longer taught.

My point is that there is something going on here beyond “mathematical culture” and “mythology.” The fact that politics are the major determiners of elementary school curricula means that the students we teach at the college level have already “learned” the cultural beliefs and attitudes of the people with political control over the system. Perhaps the real problem with the “mathematical culture” is that we do not see as part of our jobs to correct the (non-technical) falsehoods that have already been taught to our students. Or perhaps it is that we as mathematicians and mathematics educators do not feel a responsibility both to learn about elementary education and to get involved to make serious changes — and not just in our local schools (though that’s a good start).

Thank you, again, for a good read!

Helen

]]>Thanks again,

Yelena ]]>

So far, none of my colleagues in my department are using an SBG approach. However, there are a few folks around the university who are trying either specifications grading or SBG outside of the math department. I think your students would benefit from this approach even if you’re the only one using it.

]]>One of the big struggles with moving to an SBG system is you really have to figure out what it is you want your students to learn. For me, using Big Questions has been really helpful in my course prep because it focuses my attention on what the point of the course is. Also, in past semesters, I’ve often asked students on the final exam “What were the Big Questions in this course?” and I’ve been really impressed with their responses.

I realize that my students will probably, at some point, forget how to do things I’ve taught them (think: quotient rule! integration by parts!). And I think I’m OK with this. What I would like them to remember from my course, even if they forget the details about the methods we’ve implemented, is what kinds of questions we were asking. So in my instruction and documentation, I try to make clear “This is the Big Question we’re struggling with right now”.

So, specifically:

1. I don’t think the Big Questions really are part of their grade (although sometimes I ask my students if they remember them or not).

2. They are present in my system as an organization tool, both when I’m writing my standards at the start of the course, and also as a structure within the semester to bring the conversation back to “What are we even trying to do today?”

I hope this helps!

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