Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Must-Read Book on mathematics education

Derek Stolp

I am nearly finished reading a truly remarkable book about mathematics education in the US, what we can do about it to make it more effective and meaningful, and a call for a return to democratic core values in our entire approach to schooling (okay, I'm not sure the author goes quite that far explicitly, but let me do so for him if he doesn't). The author is Derek Stolp, pictured above, and the book is MATHEMATICS MISEDUCATION: The Case Against A Tired Tradition. 

It's a definite must-read if you are concerned about just how off-base both traditional and many reform efforts are in US mathematics education. For example, Stolp makes a very telling point about NCTM's commitment to real-world mathematics in his examination of the article content in THE MATHEMATICS TEACHER from 2002, the year he was writing his book. Unsurprisingly, to me at least, he found a rather dramatic mismatch between NCTM's public commitment in, say, PSSM to real-world connections and the focus of the vast majority of articles that appeared two years later in MT. I suspect that a similar study regarding the productive, creative use of technology in mathematics teaching would show even greater disconnections between NCTM's talk and walk. But they are hardly alone in this regard. 

Stolp has a lovely website with a lot of curricular ideas that jibe with his philosophy of mathematics education. It looks like it could prove to be an excellent resource for teachers who want to create a similar sort of mathematics teaching and opportunity for students in their classrooms.

I have only one quibble thus far with Mr. Stolp: at several points in his book, he mentions as an example of the difference between conceptual and procedural understanding the importance that students "get" that multiplication is repeated addition. Regular readers of my blog will recognize that those are (nearly) fighting words to my ears. But, hey, I don't expect perfection from anyone, not even myself. ;^) So even if Stolp is at least temporarily in the MIRA camp, I hope he will come to see the limitations of that viewpoint, and even if he doesn't, he's got way too much of value in his writing for me not to promote it here. 

Finally, I'd love to see what Derek Stolp and Dan Meyer would make of each other's work and viewpoints. I see the potential for a very productive exchange and potential collaboration between them. But then, I always tend to think synergistically when it comes to math and math teaching: probably comes from knowing how little I'd know in this domain if it weren't for the brilliance and inspired work of a host of other people.