I heard Rochelle Gutierrez talk at ShadowCon but didn’t get to see her full talk there. However, I just got to see her at SDSU and OMG…. mind blown. I will say that my mind was blown on math education first by Brian Lawler during my math methods class at CSUSM, but Rochelle has done it again. Hopefully it’s okay I’m calling her Rochelle instead of Dr. Gutierrez? I got to have a conversation with her, so we’re BFF’s, right? ðŸ™‚

So Bryan Meyer asked me some really good questions on my math rant video that I posted and I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand what he was saying. I LOVE talking to Bryan and he always asks me great questions that get me thinking deeply about teaching. Anyway, during the talk, I went back to some of his questions and got it! Are we reinforcing the status quo of who does well in math by what we ask scholars to do?

Big ideas I got out of this talk:

- Perhaps some scholars are not “good” at math, not because they don’t get it but because they don’t seeÂ the learning applicable to them.

I have been terrible about telling kids that they should learn math because it will make them form connections in their brain and be better problem solvers, blah blah blah. But we all know that a lot of what we teach we teach because we’re told that’s what we have to teach. I keep having the thoughts that why is the math we teach the math we teach? I want kids to be able to play with math and have fun and explore, but with everything we are told to cover with our standards, there is not enough time for many of our scholars to play with math or consider it for how they see it, vs. how we want them to see it. I see the math we teach as interesting, but a lot of kids don’t. And why should they!?

- Students don’t feel like active participants because we’re just asking them to know what we know or be like us as mathematicians.

Who’s to say what it is we should know in math or how we should act or learn as mathematicians? Bryan also said in his comment that the discovery learning that we call it is not really discovery. Or rather just re-discovering what we already know. Why aren’t we asking new questions or letting scholars ask their own questions? One of the comments that Rochelle said at ShadowCon that I heard again tonight is we need people doing math who have not historically done it because they’ll ask different questions.

- Why do we always look for misconceptions? Why don’t we allow scholars to have conceptions until they butt up against something that changes their conceptions?

We want so badly for kids to see things how we understand that we don’t allow them to think in their way and make sense in their way up to a point that they see that maybe something doesn’t make sense. Or maybe it does in a way we don’t even know!? She said let’s allow students to run with their conceptions and see if we can make sense of them.

- Past advances in math happened because people questioned the system and what was known and accepted.

Currently and for a very long time, we’ve had these ideas of what math is and what kids should know. But why!? Why is what we know the way of math? What about other possibilities of math? Why not allow scholars to question things and maybe take them in new directions?

- The idea of ethnomathematics and that there is not just one mathematics – there are many.

I learned more about this based on a talk I went to at NCTM and it interested me. I’m definitely going to look more into this but the idea is that people learn math very differently depending on where they live. The mathematics we teach in the United States is not the math taught everywhere. I don’t mean by this that we have an achievement gap with other countries – this is for another bullet. What I mean is that there are a lot of different ways to doing math and thinking about math that we don’t consider. Even just addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are thought of very differently in different places in the world. Rochelle said that during some studies she did in Mexico, she realized that the math education in the US is very based in quantitative reasoning and algebra whereas in Mexico, students thought much more in terms of geometry and the physical world as a way of explaining math.

- The term achievement gap is based upon what we see as what scholars need to achieve.

This forces us to see certain scholars as deficient of achievement. But who is to say what achievement is correct? We make math measuring, categorizing, quantitating in a way to get them ready for calculus. But why!? Why is calculus the end all and be all of math? I for one love calculus, but how many professions actually use it? I’ve been fighting for a while that statistics is more relevant to most professions. But now I’m looking at a whole new set of ideas of what might be important to keep kids lifelong learners in math!

- If education is ever going to change, we need to engage in some creative insubordination.

Stand up for scholars and their ideas. Deconstruct messages and images for scholars. Let them know that much of what they’re learning is not because they’re going to use it or because it’s going to help them except that they have to do it to play the game. The way our society is structured right now, to get the high paying jobs or graduate high school or …. you need to succeed in math. It’s not fair or right necessarily but get them involved in the discussions and perhaps once they are in our places, they can enact more change!

- So Bryan asked the question we were all thinking, “What would a math classroom look like if our current standards and what math education must look like didn’t exist?

Rochelle’s answer was beautiful. She talked about moving away from the quantitative reasoning and algebra that define our current system and moving towards more aesthetics in math, such as topology or graph theory. She talked about using this knowledge in things such as protein folding and other areas in the body, which I’m super interested in coming in from biotech! She talked about using math to look at the sustainability of our planet or things that bring more harmony, instead of being focused on economics and war like it is now. She has a math club that looks into these things and suggested taking little bits of time here and there to let kids play with math that isn’t in what we have to teach and being transparent with them about this. Then, having them teach other classes or present their work to others to help them to feel ownership in it. This is after I asked her what we can do now in the classroom – how we can start to enact change even though we have to cover all that we have to cover.

So when I reflect, apparently I write extremely long blog posts. Not sure anyone will get to the end, but if you do, tell me… What are you doing in your classroom to enact changes?