The state of mathematics education in this country is not as hopeless as we are led to believe. I’m here to say that good math teachers are alive and well in the United States. Critical thinking, intrigue, enthusiasm, real applications, and in-depth problems abound in high school math classrooms across the country. I’ve seen it, and I will testify to its existence. So, let’s make some noise. Contribute, share, grow. That’s what I have in mind.
My first thought is to start with big ideas and see where that goes. The Understanding by Design (UbD) framework calls these big ideas “Essential Questions.” A google search of ‘essential questions in math’ led me to a list of 150+essential questions in math. Seems like a good place to start, but alas, as I read through these, my suspicions are confirmed. Many of these 'essential' questions seem to fall into one (or both) of these two categories:
- I can rattle the answer off in a couple of sentences.
- I don’t care.
How about a list of questions that is intriguing to me AND to a typical high school kid? How about some questions that rise above a particular piece of content and apply to a whole variety of mathematical topics? I think the list will be shorter than 150, but who knows?
So, I start this blog with a healthy dose of humility and a shout out to all those who have mentored and inspired me in this particular endeavor:
To Ron, whose excitement and enthusiasm for math and teaching led thousands of his students and colleagues to a love of mathematics. To Rich and John, who showed me that the supply of deep and intriguing problems is endless and not as elusive as I thought. To Isaac, Mary, Steve, Andrew, Margie, Rich, and so many others who never let me forget that collaboration is so much more fun (and effective) than independent work. To Mark, who shows me that there is no shortcut through hard work. To Alice, who teaches me that real genius is not an act; it’s an action. To Colleen, who constantly reminds me that I can be better. To Jen, who showed me how to make anything look fun. To Diana, Bob, Abdellah, Brian, Ivan, Yuri, Ann, Nick, and Joan who taught me how to make math sound reasonable. And to my parents, who taught me that if higher knowledge is the goal, then critical and creative thinking is the path.
And thanks to you too. I look forward to working with you.