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Making Deep Math Connections

The NCTM Professional Process Standards state that teachers need to help students connect their learning of mathematics to other disciplines. Similarily, the Washington State EALR Process Standards make the same suggestion.

But, making this connection is often the hardest thing to do...primarily because we as teachers have not made those connections ourselves. It is not enough to do a word problem or two. And, it is a far more complex process than making connections within/between mathematical ideas.

Thus, when a text arises that describes teachers trying to make these connections, it catches my attention. The text Teaching for Depth: Where Math Meets the Humanities, edited by Dale Worsley, is such a book. It tells how a professional community of 6-12 teachers and curriculum leaders worked together in order to "read and write in math classrooms, introduce mathematical history and ideas into their social studies and English classroms, design interdisciplinary projects, and assess students more thoroughly." Sounds good...but my skeptical side wonders if they actually pulled it off? For example, this situation often leads to math teachers incorporating writing into their classrooms, and the non-math teachers not seeing any way to bring math into their classroom (and perhaps not wanting to look very hard).

My conclusions: First, the experiment was tested at private, parochial, and public schools in the New York City area. Second, some of the statements made are great. For example: "For their part, humanities teachers must learn to incorporate math components much as science classes do. They must begin to explore the history of math, observe the way mathematicians think, and incorporate more math literacy and activity into units of study." (p. vi) Third, the text includes alot of teacher reflections and student comments, but I surmise that these were carefully chosen and edited.

According to the book, the interdisciplinary experience was a success....BUT in my searching on the web, I could not find any clearcut evidence as to either the success of the project...or its continuation currently. Nonetheless, the book has merit in its interesting description of a valient effort. A sample of some chapter headings should entice you to consider reading the book:

  • Laying the foundation: Writing in the Math Classroom
  • The Probability of Poetry
  • "I Would Have Laughed...": A Math Classroom
  • Every Class is an English Class
  • The Human Face of Mathematics: Changing Misconceptions
  • Life and Math at Imaginary High
  • Math and Westward Expansion: How an Interdisciplinary Project Changed My Thinking
  • A Mathematical Correspondence Between Humanists
  • The Math of Art: Probing Design Principles of Classical Greece and Islam in the Classroom
  • The Mathematcian's Apprentice
Sounds fun, right! Be forewarned that though the fun is there, to pull this type of collaboration off requires a very special group of committed teachers--in all disciplines. Nonetheless, the suggestions, creative ideas, and information are enough to help interested teachers make some positive steps on a smaller scale. And some positive steps are better than the "isolationist" approach we are implementing presently.

The book can be purchased from Amazon or directly from its publisher, Heinemann.