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[Xmca-l] units of mathematics education
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- Subject: [Xmca-l] units of mathematics education
- From: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
- Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:25:06 +1100
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Ed, I can't answer your question, so I'll to revert to the other subject
A few ill-informed observations on the unit of analysis.
Philip's analysis into turns is of course a Bakhtinian analysis of
classroom activity. Whatever else it may show, it is not going to tell
us anything about the formation of concepts, mathematical or other.
I agree with you, Ed., that the text-mediated teacher-student
interaction is "too big" to tell us anything about the learning of
mathematical ideas. It is a lens for shedding light on the relation
between teacher and student, which is doubtless helpful but still does
not help us understand how a child may develop mathematical insight,
only how to emulate what the teacher does, and after all, sometimes the
teacher is wrong.
Vygotsky did come to the brink of talking about this topic when he
studied the development of what he called pre-concepts, didn't he?
"Pre-Concepts," in Vygotsky's lexicon, form only in older children,
typically those who are already attending school and being confronted
with school-like tasks, or engaged in social activities including
processes such as measuring, buying and selling, calculating time, and
so on. Such activities oblige the child to use culturally transmitted
symbols of some kind (not necessarily numbers, for example coins or
measuring sticks) to carry out processes requiring the abstraction of
features from a concrete situation. And famously, Vygotsky used the
artefact-mediated action as his unit for these studies. The teacher and
the wider culture only entered the picture in the selection of the
artefact and (presumably) the setting of the task (Vygotsky glossed over
In a brief off-line exchange, Ed has made me accept that mathematics, as
practised by mathematicians, is a formal science. It is actually
concerned only with sequences of symbols, not any material process
outside the text. But I still think that mathematics is a science. Even
symbols are material things. Mathematics is not merely a social
convention, and I don't believe it can be learnt if it is taught as a
formal discipline. Of course, if you believe that mathematics is just a
social convention, then decoding texts under teacher direction is the
essence of doing mathematics.
I accept that decoding word problems may be a typical way that
mathematics is taught in school, but unless we are content to simply
describe existing practices I am not satisfied that this unit, based on
decoding texts, captures how students learn mathematics. And indeed it
may obscure that.
Ed Wall wrote:
I have never really figured out what reform-oriented oriented or, I guess the other, traditional, meant. If I ask many who name themselves as traditionalists to describe a reform-oriented classroom, they paint an inaccurate picture and, if I ask many who name themselves reform-oriented to describe a traditionalist classroom, they paint a picture just as inaccurate. Even worse if I go back and look at comments from the past, I find that the golden years of traditionalism were as contested (i.e. if transported back today's traditionalists would find themselves labeled reform-oriented). So I guess I more or less agree with Lave as regards consistency. Insofar as Piaget and Vygotsky are concerned, they both add things I think are useful to the mix and I discuss them both with my students (unfortunately my colleagues know little about Vygotsky so my students come a little less knowledgeable than I might wish).
I really wouldn't know what it means for teaching to be consistent. I do have commitments as a mathematics teacher which I try to honor (I think you were part of the discussion when I laid these out on the list), but teaching is isn't a static profession (which I really like!) and I am always learning from my students and my colleagues. I agree with what you say about individuals and groups and grumble at my colleagues and my students (teachers-to-be) about "simply engaging students in group discussion with no real sense of how that activity is supposed to lead to learning or development in any sense." Even worse is the way quiet students are viewed and mentored.
Insofar as my original story was concerned, I can easily imagine some reform-oriented people thinking she was an excellent teacher and I can easily imagine some traditionalist teachers thinking the same (and vice-versa). As far as the story I asked Phillip about (and I was assuming others might answer), I know some mathematicians would see this class as a good idea and others would not. However, my objection was, in a sense, that it wasn't consistent (although perhaps not in the way you mean).
So, directing the question at you (and others if they wish), why did I tell him nicely it was among one of the worst taught classes I had ever seen? I have given you a hint (smile) and I didn't have, I think, a theoretical reason (smile).