Learning about math learning

By Murray Bourne, 29 Oct 2006

The University of California at San Diego has developed teacher preparation courses called "Teaching Math: The Challenge" and "Teaching Science: The Challenge". In the article Learning about Learning, UCSD explains that the courses are:

an introduction to how diverse learners solve math and science problems and how effective teaching is rooted in a deep understanding of how people learn.

I like the sound of these programmes:

It is essential to respect students’ ideas by understanding these ideas well enough to build on them, rather than simply giving students a formula to memorize, [..] The partnership bridges a gap characteristic of most teacher education programs, in which courses in psychology, learning and development are “tacked onto” students’ science or mathematics coursework.

[Update] There used to be a video on the UCSD Algebraic Thinking Institute program, but it is no longer available. It showed math teachers thinking deeply about how students learn math - and therefore the best way to teach it. The participants were enjoying learning mathematics all over again - through the eyes of the other participants and their students. UCSD promotes a reflective approach where facilitation is more important than teaching. There were also hints of problem-based learning and emphasis on meaning behind what is going on.

One of the math teachers asked:

Why do I do these steps? Do the students really understand what I am doing or are they just following an algorithm?

What I liked here is that the teachers are doing a mini-lesson and then the others discuss the approach used. There is not enough of this kind of activity. Most teachers just bunker down in their classes and refuse to allow colleagues to watch and then have everyone learn from the observations and suggestions. We have a "peer lesson observation" program that is proving to be valuable.

There are many math teachers around who just give the formula, give an example then tell the students to do it. No wonder there are so many problems in the mathematics classroom.

Footnote: It seems that California is like many other places sharing a dearth of math teachers:

California is currently producing about half of the secondary math and science teachers it needs.

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