I Think, therefore I Math

I Think, therefore I Math

I remember the first time I fell in love with math. I was enrolled in Mr. MacFarlene’s DP Math class. He often told jokes and odd stories about mathematicians but one day he did this lesson proving Pythagoras’ theorem using origami–that changed my life! After that lesson, I began to enjoy thinking mathematically. Math suddenly became real to me and I started to see it in my everyday life.

square-numbers Recently, during a conversation about math standards with a fellow primary school teacher,  we talked about how math symbols and algorithms can be very off-putting for students when they don’t understand the conceptual basis of an idea. We had a  love rant over using inquiry-based approaches in order to conceptualize problems and build models in order to show visual representations. When done in this way, math can become suddenly interesting, even “beautiful”.

Have you ever seen this TED Talk by Jo Boaler? (If not, watch it now–seriously it’s awesome!) As someone who once struggled with math, and later “got it”, minoring in it in university, I can appreciate the research that demonstrates how mindset is everything in overcoming barriers to problem-solving.

 

Most of the math taught in schools is over 400 years old and is not actually the mathetmatics that students need. -Jo Boaler-

When I reflect on my own experience as a learner and ponder this educational research, I wholeheartedly agree that inquiry-based learning naturally cultivates a joy in the struggle as students actively engage in problems that are relevant and interesting. Boaler calls this a multi-dimensional approach to teaching math, which would include the following:

  1. Posing  stimulating questions
  2. Providing multiple approaches to problem-solving
  3. Communicating student thinking
  4. Representing ideas in a variety of ways
  5. Using reasoning in order to justify the validity of a solution.

When engaged in this way, students begin to grasp ideas extensively, making connections to other mathematical concepts and applying them in a range of different contexts. The best part is that students become fascinated by math problems and solving them can be fun.

What I love most about the comparative research of inquiry-based math and traditional approaches to teaching is that this multi-dimensional approach not only closes the achievement gap but increases achievement, especially in more diverse socioeconomic schools like this group ; in fact, in more linguistically diverse populations, this approach not only improves math scores but also reading and science. As someone whose IB school population is mostly ELLs (English Language Learners), I have witnessed how transdisciplanary learning accelerates learning in so many subject areas. It feels like a no-brainer to teach this way, yet so many schools still rely on textbooks and worksheets. It’s a shame that those students miss out on all the juicy thinking.

However, I believe with all the focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, the trend towards favoring slow and deep mathematical thinking (vs. fast yet shallow problem-solving) will be inevitable. With 21st century learning, there’s a greater demand for integration of disciplines. Creating authentic situations in which real and compelling questions naturally develop, with a sublime amount of mystery lurking in it so that students can imagine and debate ideas during their problem-solving process, is becoming more universally accepted as effective math teaching, even in non-IB schools.

As a lover of math, the transition into these approaches gives me hope that my daughter might not have to wait until high school before she can relish the effort and be absorbed in a math task. I dream that one day she fumbles the words of Descartes and whispers into my ear, I think, therefore I math.

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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