I'm going to try my best to summarize a lot of what I have been thinking about lately in terms of curriculum design and pedagogy that supports students in "doing mathematics." Although there is more to it than what I write here, the following three pillars seem to be a good place to start:
1. Each lesson should revolve around a single task, prompt, or question
Students can't "do mathematics" if we don't offer them an opportunity. I think it is most helpful to think of this as a shift from the traditional lesson format of lecture, guided practice, individual practice to a more fitting lesson format of launch, explore, summarize
. The traditional lesson format is designed precisely to have students mimic the teacher's way of knowing and doing mathematics. The second lesson format shifts the responsibility of doing, inventing, and creating to the student. By offering students this responsibility, we also give them the opportunity to develop mathematical habits of mind
2. Each task, prompt, or question should be student-driven
Many people interpret student-driven curriculum as the notion that students decide what to study. While I think that might be a possibility (by having students generate and pursue extensions of the task, prompt, or question), I prefer to think of this as curriculum that is designed to respond to a student's current way of knowing by always pushing on their equilibrium point. In this way, it becomes difficult for a curriculum to stand entirely on its own, independent of the student community. While curriculum can/should serve as a reference
, it is ultimately up to the teacher to craft a lesson that, in a response to an assessment of a student's current mental model, puts the student in a position of cognitive conflict. This iterative process results in a connected mathematical trajectory that is student-driven.
3. The "resolution" of each task, prompt, or question must come from the students
Mostly, I mean here that no body other than the students should provide resolution (ex. textbook, teacher, video, etc.) When students see that the validity of their thinking will be measured by something/somebody other than themselves, they will always end up judging their thinking against a "greater" authority. In these situations, the "doing" becomes solely about figuring out how to arrive at someone else's understanding. When a task is open, the "doing" becomes more about arriving at a resolution that makes sense to the individual student/group. There may be differences in opinion and reasoning among students, which is good. In order for a pair, group, or class to reach a resolution, the authority must come from the logic and mathematics of the students. I would even suggest that any task that prompts students to uncover a pre-existing solution will inhibit their ability to engage in "doing mathematics."Even though much of this sounds dramatic, I truly don't think it is too far removed from what is possible in even the most standards-driven schools. Thomas Romberg writes of a problem-based approach similar to this in which he sees students "studying much of the same mathematics currently taught, but with quite a different emphasis." I think this is a fitting description of what I propose here. I would push for much of this type of design to occur within a problem-based environment, but I don't think it is necessary. One could just as easily work with students to study, abstractly, a unit on exponential growth, trigonometric ratios, or any other traditional standards-based unit. This type of design is difficult and requires patience, but the impact on teaching, learning, and doing mathematics has meaningful impact.