Are Math Teachers' Beliefs "Mathematically Correct"?
Lynn Arthur Steen, St. Olaf College
(Ruminations on what parents think when they listen to mathematics teachers' true beliefs. Prepared in response to a discussion at the April 1998 meeting of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) on how to convey teachers' beliefs to parents and administrators who are critical of the NCTM Standards.)
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1. Focus on problems and problem solving.

How can you expect students to solve math problems if they don't know any math? Shouldn't math teachers focus first on teaching math?

2. Student-centered learning.

This is the main problem with schools today--children are being taught by children. Students deserve to be taught by teachers, not by other students.

3. All student think mathematically.

What good is thinking if you can't calculate volumes or solve equations? Students should first learn to do mathematics. Then they may have something to think about.

4. All students participate.

How silly! Some students enjoy math and others hate it. If teachers try to get all student working together, the best students will never learn anything. All it will amount to is the blind leading the blind.

5. Balance among concepts, procedures, applications.

Balance is just an excuse for lack of priorities. First things first: before embarking on abstract concepts and fancy procedures, teachers need to be sure that students master the basics of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry. Those are the three basics that need to be balanced.

6. Communication.

Communication belongs in English class, not in math class. Math teachers should teach math. They shouldn't allow student to get credit for wrong answers dressed up with a lot of fancy words.

7. Investigations.

A total waste of time. How much math is learned counting M&Ms and measuring students' arm lengths? Students would learn much more if the time devoted to investigations was used instead for direct instruction--which is, after all, what teachers are hired for.

8. Raise all student performance.

Some students learn math a lot faster than others. By focusing on everyone, you'll just get the lowest common denominator. At that rate, everyone will be at the bottom of the class.

9. Connecting mathematics and the real world.

"Real world math" sounds like a cousin of "rain forest math." Instead of wandering around in the real world, math teachers should just teach real math--equations and graphs and formulas. Leave the real world to geography class.

10. Core curriculum.

What is a "core" curriculum, anyway? It sounds like the centerpiece of the new new math, whatever that is. Maybe it is all those fancy new things such as problem solving, communication, and investigation. Why can't math teachers just teach math?


Copyright © 1998. Contact: Lynn A. Steen URL: http://www.stolaf.edu/people/steen/Papers/beliefs.html

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