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Reform In Mathematics Teaching

Mathematics instruction changes as a reflection of what society deems to be valuable in terms of the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the workplace.  The Progressive movement of the 1920’s was widely influenced by John Dewey’s ideas that schooling should be  largely directed toward children’s experiences and interests. Although this has good intent and justification,  in 1940’s tracking in mathematics emerged as means to steer students toward mathematics courses.  As a result of tracking there was a sharp decline in the percentage of high school students taking algebra-from 57% in 1905 to about 25% in the late 1940’s and early 1950s (Jones & Coxford, 1970).

Delivery of instruction is also contingent upon the reaction of perceived shortcomings of previous movements. The “Back to Basics” (1970’s)  approach which focuses upon a skill and drill approach to instruction, was in response to the failings of “New Math” (1950’s)  which focused on advanced mathematics  and was often developed by mathematicians who focused on higher level mathematics.

Currently we see the focus of mathematics on higher order thinking and 21st century skills  with a focus on conceptual understanding more so than procedural. Content knowledge expectations are clarified by grade level standards and there is a spiriling of curriculum so that students have content knowledge that is in greater depth than breath.  As schools and districts move toward the Common Core standards, instruction must change too ensure the emphasis is on what students understand more so than what they can do.  And as we enter another pardigm shift in mathematics it is unknown what shortcomings await and what new challenges will emerge.

According to Philipp, (2011) “the challenge is no longer how to get mathematics into students, but instead how to get students into mathematics”.   I believe the Standards for Mathematical Practice do provide guidance and direction to meet the reforms in mathematics.  But in order for teachers of mathematics to approach instruction in mathematics differently it will take more than just standards to infuse a pedagogical shift.  Teacher’s tend to teach the way they were taught, moreover research suggest it takes a teacher about twenty attempts to implement a new approach into their practice.

So What? Well now that we have overcome our cognitive learning hump we need to focus on mastery of instructional practices.

How will you address this challenge and meet the expectations of the newest reform in mathematics?images


About Dr. Dickenson

I am an assistant professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose.


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