Doers of Mathematics

I’ve blogged about process quite a bit, but there’s a great article in the September issue of Teaching Children  Mathematics titled “From the Inside Out” (by Fillingham and Barlow)


Children vote on liking or disliking a vegetable and then work in cooperative teams to create graphs.

about what motivates kids intrinsically to become “doers of math.”

The article notes that it isn’t sufficient simply to look at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) process standards, but to actually observe the behaviors and interview the students to find out what makes math so exciting and fun for them. Just doing it, isn’t enough. This journal is published by the NCTM.

There are some regular classroom motivating factors . But we must look at their own personal motivations. The authors of the article notice three behaviors emerge.

  1. Connecting to previous material.
  2. Responding beyond the original question.
  3. Conjecturing or predicting with relevance to mathematical discussions

Students will engage in these behaviors without prompting if actively engaged. How do we get more students to be this engaged? Teachers need to model the desired behaviors, and this can be done through simple open ended questions:

How does this task relate to ____?

What would happen if______?

Teachers should acknowledge the behaviors when they observe it, use student work as exemplars, and can also ask questions like:

Do you agree or disagree? Explain.

Is your response similar or different?

How is your response similar or different?

Finally, the article concludes by saying that it’s not our job to force kids to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation – you can’t do that – but to create an environment that enables kids to initiate their own behaviors as doers of mathematics.

In the picture above (from this year’s 2nd grade vegetable taste test), the image shows a station where children try a vegetable and then vote yes or no using a red or green unifix cube. They are familiar with the process as they have done it since Kindergarten. However, the progression from K to 2 is that they begin in K by voting on just one or two vegetables and the whole class creates one or two graphs. By the time they get to second grade, they taste 6 different vegetables and work in cooperative teams to create 6 separate graphs. They then are asked how their graphs are similar, different, what worked, to make up questions related to their graphs, etc.

They are definitely becoming doers of mathematics.

This article and video from edutopia features how to teach math as a social activity, and fits in line with the article mentioned above.


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