Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Teaching Math: No Simple Formula 

AssortedStuff has a nice overview of a pair of articles from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about math instruction which mirrors a lot of what I've found to be true: That both Mathematically Correct and their opponents are wrong. There's a balance that needs to be achieved, much like the balance between phonics and whole language in reading instruction, for math instruction to be top quality. The Mathematically Correct people, for example, rail against the use of manipulatives and discovery learning, failing to see their value in math education (in my experience, many MC people tend to have the view that they learned math without these things, so why can't everyone else?). In the other corner, there are too many incompetent math teachers who don't move beyond the use of manipulatives or make sure that discovery learning ends with, well, discovering something. A classroom that I watched last week had the students using algebra tiles to find some strategies for factoring trinomials, but a lack of real guidance for the students hindered this somewhat. No possible strategies were offered for working with the tiles (like arranging the x2 tiles and the constant tiles into rectangles), so many of the students spent time aimlessly rearranging the tiles. One might argue that what I'm suggesting is awfully close to the ac method for factoring, and in fact it is. That's sort of the point. The value in the algebra tiles is to give students an idea of what factoring means, and, that's going to expand beyond polynomial factorization to also factoring integers.

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