This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Mathematical Thinking

It seems to be socially acceptable, even among educators, to admit that we don’t like math or are not good at it.  I know that none of us would say publicly that we are not good at reading.  We may say we don’t like reading but that does not mean that we can’t read or comprehend a text if it were part of our job.  So why is it all right to say “I hate math!” or “I am not a math person”?

If math is problem solving, logical thinking, drawing conclusions, providing proofs, checking for reasonableness and justifying an answer, shouldn’t all of us learn to be good at it?  Can anyone go through life not needing these skills?  Can we afford to treat mathematical thinking as the domain of only a few, if we aim to have a democratic society where every member is contributing his or her share?

We are lucky enough to live in an age where the computational part of math can be done using machines, much faster and more accurate.  Machines can also remember all the routine formulas and algorithms.  We can program them to do whatever we want them to do.  But that is not all there is to math.  Only humans can do the thinking part of math. 

We are wired for communication.  And for at least 10,000 years we have needed to measure and communicate about time, quantity and distance.  We developed language and script to communicate our thoughts and feelings.  We developed the language of math to solve problems and have a way to communicate our solutions.

Every day children sit in our classrooms that will take on a future none of us can even imagine.  They may dream of working in fields where mathematical thinking is indispensable.  Is it right for us as teachers to take that opportunity away from them, because we decided that math was not going to be the focus of our careers?  The choice should not be:  You are good in math, you should become an engineer.  It should be:  You want to be an engineer?  Then you need to become more proficient in math. 

But there is more at stake than a choice in careers or access to higher education.  The opportunity to learn to reason and problem solve is the right of every human being, man or woman, rich or poor.