Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Statement of Personal Philosophy re Math Wars, etc...

Although I have long espoused national math standards (as is well-documented on this blog), I have steadfastly refused to engage in the vitriolic rhetoric of the Math Wars. Despite the fact that I live 7 minutes from Ridgewood, NJ, a community that has recently found itself in the eye of the Math War storm, despite the fact that I was directly involved in developing the Mathematics Content Standards for New Jersey (working with Joe Rosenstein), despite a myriad of reasons for me to comment on this latest conflagration, I choose not to. This blog is all about MATHEMATICS CONTENT and PEDAGOGY. Mathematics is essentially pure and I will not taint it with political issues. If you want to read controversial statements about what we should teach and how to teach it, there are dozens of blogs and forums you can visit. You will not find it here. If you want meaningful discussions of real mathematics that transcend the moment in which we live, keep coming back. I hope to not disappoint you. I might not get the volume of readers by this decision, but my conscience will be clear...

Stay tuned for an in-depth treatment of recursive functions for grades 7-14. I hope you will enjoy Part I.


jonathan said...

Hi David,

I respect your decision to stay clear, although I am curious what prompted you to make the announcement.

As for me, as long as you've opened (and closed?) the topic, I've struggled to find the middle ground that most good teachers really want to live in.

Yesterday I ran into (via a math carnival participant) some on line discussions of Ridgewood, most fairly extreme one way or the other. However, one blog seemed to fall a bit more towards the center, and I left a comment.

In case you are interested, here it is.

Dave Marain said...

I started this blog to basically escape from the math ed battleground. I engaged militarily in this battle for 15 years on various forums and I've taken on all comers, regardless of their titles. I have no use for extremists from either side who, in my opinion, are driven more by self-interest than a passion for helping children learn important math in a meaningful way.

From Day 1, I've made it clear that I'm a centrist. Check every one of my posts on math-learn, math-teach, math talk and my own forum, MathShare. See if I have been consistent!

The enrichment activities I've authored assume that students have already acquired a solid base of fundamental knowledge. I build on this to engage students in more complex ideas than they might encounter in traditional or even reform math. The investigations I'm giving away on this blog often go significantly beyond the depth of current reform activities that I've read and I've read a lot! Students in higher-performing nations engage in precisely these kinds of questions. They're not just moving forward for the sake of content coverage. They are working on meatier problems requiring strong facility with arithmetic and algebra. I use a well-known acronym (with my own interpretation) to describe the essential ingedients for success in problem-solving: KISS

All of this represents a blend of traditional and reformed. It takes a lot of effort to produce these materials but there are rewards...

I am offended by the extremists out there who are now poisoning the math blogosphere. I thought I had escaped all of this when I started this blog, but I may have been mistaken.

jonathan said...

I hope I haven't given offense. It certainly was not my intent. I felt that we both, in different ways, were working on that center, on the engaging activities that complement the more basic skills, and make it easier to learn them.

Your worksheets are wonderfully engaging, and wonderfully dependent on more fundamental skills, and if I didn't say that before, I am saying it now.

I am, for what it's worth, suspicious of all comers. There is too much money tied up in the extremes for the middle to have heavyweight backing.

It's an unreasonable hope that by seeking out that center, it might be possible to model some good stuff, and get it to spread. But no one's accused me of being reasonable. I'm still trying.

Dave Marain said...

I'm not offended at all! You have been one of my strongest supporters from the inception of this blog and I owe you a great deal. My anger came from reading some blogs regarding the Ridgewood incident. Same old, same old...

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I don't believe it is an unreasonable hope to get the Establishment behind a centrist position. I was criticized for several years for suggesting that this country needs ONE math curriculum and that it was wrong to have 50 states develop their own standards, assessments and cut-offs for passing these. Guess what - the movement toward a national curriculum is now gaining momentum. Of course I care what goes into this curriculum and who will influence its direction. That''s why I wrote to the National Math Panel and attempted to provide input!
I believe that when one plants ENOUGH seeds, something good can happen. After all, that's why I became a teacher!
I'm writing these investigations to show others how richer mathematics can be developed. They're just models. Other more creative educators out there may want to start building their own. I'm thinking of compiling some of my better ones and adding a few more with complete solutions.

Again, thanks for using some of these investigations with your students and giving these activities credibility. I have no idea if anyone else is, since very few have commented on their use in actual classrooms. You're giving me the incentive to continue this effort...