There seems to be a lot of effort recently to teach math through "real world" contexts
. You may scoff at this a bit because, as we all know, this is NOT a new argument. If you stop and think for a bit though, you might realize that this is still
the "heart" of the reform movement in math. Project-based learning, interdisciplinary classes, and even "WCYDWT
" (which have all helped to better education) have, at their core, the desire to show students that math really does exist outside of a classroom. To be clear, in many ways I think this is a HUGE improvement but, and maybe I'm asking too much here, I think we can do more than that (as I alluded to in a previous post
I'm lucky to have a wonderful advisor, Stacey Callier, in my grad school program. I work in a project-based school and, as she knows well, I often push back against the hidden assumption in PBL that math is a "tool" that helps us solve real-world problems (I think the terminology I used today was that math seems to always be the "servant of science"). We started talking a lot about the constructivist philosophy that is central to my work and we (mostly she) came up with this matrix:
Is it better if we situate mathematics in a "real" context that students find engaging? Of course! I just think we can do that AND STILL honor a student's way of understanding and knowing, give them opportunities to author and create their own mathematics, and help them construct their own meaning for ideas that help them solve a problem. Call me an optimist (read: delusional), but I think its possible.
I have been thinking about this a bit since I posted it yesterday and I'm not too sure how I feel about it still. There are a few things that are bothering me:
1. The "HOLY GRAIL" label implies that this is where math education "should" be…which I'm not sure everyone would agree with (in fact, I'm not sure I can say that this is where I think it should be.
2. The top (applied vs. non) seems to get at "why teach math" while the right (constructive vs. non) seems to get at "how teach math." Is it ok to compare these two things in a matrix? Not sure.
Mostly, I labeled the top left "HOLY GRAIL" because I strongly believe that math should be taught in a constructivist fashion. If we can do this AND situate the math in a "relevant/applied" context shouldn't we do that?!?