Deep Understanding of Mathematical Knowledge

Posted: November 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

14861_PtA_cover-125x179While at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Regional Conference in Houston, TX, I picked up a copy of Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematics Success for All. I’ve had some time to sit and read a little over this 5 day Thanksgiving weekend. There is a lot to reflect on in this book, and I look to share some of those thoughts as I read.

However, I made it to page 7 before I had to stop, reread, think, and reread. The following is from the book:

The teaching of mathematics is complex. It requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the mathematical knowledge that they are expected to teach and a clear view of how student learning of that mathematics develops and progresses across grades. It also requires teachers to be skilled at teaching in ways that are effective in developing mathematics learning for all students. (Principles to Actions, NCTM 2014)

Let that sink in for a moment. In fact, reread that if you need.

I have been teaching middle school math off and on for 5 years. I have also taught at the elementary level. As I read the paragraph above, I think about all the middle school and high school math teachers I have worked, current and past, beside. Most of the teachers at the secondary level have this understanding and knowledge, as well as a love, of mathematics. Many difficulties is the change in how to teach mathematics for a better understanding instead of just teaching algorithms.

However, I don’t want to talk about secondary teachers. I want to talk about elementary teachers.

When I read the paragraph above, I can’t help but think about many elementary teachers. Many love the younger age of students and enjoy teaching. However, when it comes to teaching math, there are several who wish they didn’t have to teach it. They don’t have that understanding of math for students to grow the understanding.

I think we need to start from the bottom and really teach the elementary teachers how to teach mathematics for understanding and not just drill and kill. We need to help elementary teachers understand and have the knowledge of math.

How do we do this though? Should we have specialized math instructors at the elementary level? You know, classes go to music class, art class and physical education class (well many still do). Should students also go to another teacher for math? One who will help students understand the content and not just regurgitate information?

I think that having students really understand mathematics will help students when they get to middle school to start to really think about the content.

One of my biggest struggles as a 6th grade math teacher is that when I ask students to just think and try things on their own, they stop. Many see that there isn’t a simple answer and just quit. They wait for me to talk so they can be given the answer.

What can I do to help change the mindset of students that there is one answer and one way to get there? What can I do to help encourage students to have a love of math? What can I do to change math at the elementary level?

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