Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 10:35:36 -0700 To: amte@esunix.emporia.edu From: Kirby Urner <pdx4d@teleport.com> Subject: More re "ET Math" In a recent post, I introduced the thread of "ET math".[1] I wouldn't claim this idea is original with me. This "imagine a culture in which X is the case" is a time-honored pedagogical technique. Its point is to get students thinking about hypothetical worlds, "parallel universes" as it were, as this helps add perspective and analytical understanding regarding what's actually the case in _this_ world (whichever one that might be). We need "other worlds" for contrast. In the context of math ed, I think mathematics as a discipline can be a disappointing and intimidating subject from the point of view of a newcomer, because: (a) it sometimes appears that all the "easy" discoveries have been made, with the "frontier" being accessible only to those committing to the subject as a career (b) it seems so cut and dried, packaged in a kind of pickle- flavored "this is just how things are" preservative, which many find unsavory, because there's nothing to challenge, question, overturn (in this sense, math, like Latin, is a "dead language" -- at least in K-12). (c) one's accomplishments in mathematics, as well as in many other disciplines, are celebrated only if (a) you add to its ediface (something mostly open to careerists) or (b) challenge its foundations (but how do you challenge self-evident axioms and definitions?) I'm not saying I agree with (a)(b)(c) above, only that these aspects of our subject somewhat account for why it suffers from bad PR and has a difficult time making inroads with many youth. We should be especially sensitive to (a) in that human history is "time asymmetric". There's no "turning back the clock" to where we don't already know about the binomial theorem or Taylor series (unless we unleash the nukes and "restupify" en masse).[2] Kids born today are facing a much larger aggregate of mathematical literature than kids born even as recently as 50 years ago -- and it's not the case that this makes no difference in the early grades. On the contrary, I would claim that this sense of an "ever retreating frontier" is palpable, and affects teacher attitude as well -- even if (as I suggest below), this sensation is somewhat illusory and unsupported ("new frontiers" are a stone's throw away everywhere you look, if you know
- How to Address the Problem *NOW* (math-teach thread, starting April 29, 2001)
- Earlier post to AMTE listserv re obsolescence of math ed text books (April 10, 2000)
- Memo (February 1997) to the National Council of Mathematics Teachers
- Memo to Richard W. Riley, US Secretary of Education requesting support
- Math Makeover Home Page
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