Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Response to Kieth Devlin: 

First blog post!  We shall see how this goes...

The basic rules for this blog:
  1. This will be updated whenever I get around to it.  
  2. I hope for once a month, but who knows.
  3. All of my posts will be related to mathematics, most likely mathematics education, as that is my profession.
  4. While I work at a two year college, I also have children in the K-12 system, so sometimes the posts will overlap.
  5. Everything I blog about is my own opinion, and in no way shape or form should be taken as representative of my employer and/or any of the professional organizations I belong to. 

One of the mathematics related blogs I read is Keith Devlin's devlins angle on the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) website.   His post on November 4th discusses the topic of teacher verses curriculum.  His point is that a good teacher can make a bad curriculum into a good learning experience, but even a great curriculum will not help an encounter with a bad teacher become a good learning experience.  ** I strongly suggest you go read it **

I agree, and in fact I would even go further.  It is not enough to be a good teacher with a good curriculum.  You must , It really helps, no You must also be a mathematician.  My friend Kate Owens commented on the difference between "math teacher" and "mathematician" on her blog here.  To quote "Meanwhile, 'mathematician' has something more to do with educational background, training, and hobbies...."  I would like to focus on the hobbies part.  In my mind, if you are involved in helping students learn about mathematics, you need to have as one of your hobbies mathematics.

** Warning, I am about to use myself as an example, which is always a little (or a lot) arrogant.  Also, I really want to avoid any "us vs. them" stuff here. **
If I look around my department, those who I consider really good "teachers" are for the most part also the ones interested in discussing mathematics.  How we are teaching what we teach, good problems, and above all else, reading about more mathematics.  Part of this is the self improvement all people should want to do, but I think a bigger part of this is an awareness that mathematics is at the base a search for patterns and a way of thinking.  The more you search, the more patterns you discover, and the more you expand your mathematical thinking.

For a little example of this, I just thought of another way to help my students understand the  Birthday Problem.  I have always calculated in class, and I have a couple of intuitive ways of explaining it, but just this past week while working on a problem set (just for fun, because solving mathematics problems IS fun!) I thought of another way.

Comments, thoughts, suggestions?!?!  Let me know. 

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