What is Math? Solving puzzles and shrimp chips of course!

A couple years ago Grant Wiggins, UbD author, interviewed Steven Strogatz who is now a math professor at Cornell. Below are a couple quotes that stand out to me about his views on math education.

…almost all students have no conception of their strengths and weaknesses in math in terms of creativity and technique. Since almost every school emphasizes only the procedural side, how could they? The idea that you would find and formulate your own problems is unknown to most students…

…this generation of teachers hasn’t been taught how to think about and find such problems readily. Nor do most of them have first-hand experience in thinking about real problems day after day, not much personal experience really doing math.

Yup – that about sums it up. I have ZERO experience “really doing math” because my background is in political science BUT I want my students to really do math. I conceptually understand that you find interesting problems and then work to find solutions. I’ve just never had to do it (or had it taught to me). While I’m good at this teaching thing, I have to get better at this math thing to make my classroom what I want it to be.

Professor Strogatz ends with suggestions on how to begin this transformation. One idea I think I’m going to integrate next year are Car Talk puzzlers – like my 11th grade English teacher who incorporated NPR’s Sunday Puzzle into our routine. Because of the Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz I’m kind of obsessed with him as a puzzle maker….and Shrimp Chips – the prize to the winner of the puzzle (And as Mr. Hanley always used to say, the # 4 ingredient is shrimp).


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