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The Fight of 3000 Years Continues....

You might have heard about a new "curriculum" proposal (not Common Core)...some have written to ask my opinion. And, I do have a strong opinion.

At the January EduCon 2.5 conference in Philadelphia, Mike Thayer moderated a discussion. Based on the subsequent newsprint attention, he dominated the discussion.

A high school physics and mathematics teacher, Thayer proposed this high school curriculum scenario:

  • Freshmen would take a one-year course that "covered the essentials" of Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, and possibly parts of Trigonometry
  • Any other math concepts "might" be learned in "a cross-disciplinary fashion through other courses"
His examples of the latter: a chemistry teacher teaching the basics of logarithms while covering the pH scale or a biology teachers teaching the ideas of exponential growth when discussing species population and reproduction.

His premise: We need to streamline a high school studentís general math experience and empower/encourage them to learn additional math skills to solve real-world problems of their own interest.

How typical that a physics (so-claimed "math") teacher has the audacity:

  • To reduce the high school math curriculum to a one year course
  • To assume that chemistry, biology, and physics teachers are competent (let alone interested) in teaching the math needed beyond this one-year course
Having taught math a great many years next to science teachers of all ilks (even at the university level), I am too well aware of the implications. The math taught would be rule-based, sans conmceptual underpinnings. The math taught would be restricted to what math they felt was relevant to their specific field, which is basically very little. That is, have you recently looked for evidence of mathematics (e.g. real mathematics, not just its skelaton via formulas) in high school chemistry, biology, or physics books?

To be fair, I should add that Thayer's discussion occurred at a Science Leadership Academy, yet math teachers were involved. How could they not fight for their discipline as being more than a "tool" for the sciences? How could they not fight for the opportunity/need to share the beauty and richness of mathematics beyond that of a one-year crash course?

Perhaps some math teachers did fight back, as Thayer later commented: "What I am hearing is that if we would like to really make math meaningful for our students, we need to do things to create the ability for them to be truly mathematical thinkers." Duh!

I am all for meaningful discussions of mathematical ideas within science contexts...and vice versa. But, I am not willing to give up on the idea that mathematics can be appreciated sans its applications.

Source: I. Quillen's "In Teaching Math, Whatís the Right Mix of Content and Context?" KQED.org/mindshift