Creating classrooms that focus on real-world applications of math is one desired outcome of math reforms proposed today by three national mathematics organizations.
Meanwhile, local math instructors and teacher educators said many of the recommended measures already have been implemented in this part of the country.
Representatives of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and the Mathematical Sciences Education Board (MSEB) met in Washington, D.C., this morning to announce the teaching recommendations.
"These recommendations have their credibility built on what's already being done in some places around the country," said Shirley Frye, past president of the NCTM, in a telephone interview from Washington this morning.
"PROFESSIONAL Standards for Teaching Mathematics," a report prepared by the NCTM, presents 55 vignettes depicting outstanding mathematics teaching. The report urges math teachers to emphasize:
Connecting mathematics and its applications instead of seeing mathematics as a body of isolated concepts and procedures.
Learning in cooperative groups instead of as individuals.
Using logic and mathematical evidence to verify results instead of looking to the teacher as the sole authority for right answers.
Developing mathematical reasoning instead of memorization of formulas.
Conjecturing, inventing and problem-solving instead of mechanistic answer-finding.
Paul Corcoran, a sixth-grade teacher at Lawrence's Deerfield School, said the district already has adopted many of those principles.
HE SAID he finds many practical applications of math in the classified ads of the newspaper. Students can try to determine what size of classified ad they could afford to run given a limited budget. They also might look at monthly salaries offered and try to calculate how much they would make annually in certain jobs.
Corcoran said he also uses a set of materials called AIMS, Activities Integrating Math and Science, to show students practical applications of math.
Corcoran, who last year won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching, said he also has had students work in groups for about six years now.
"Students who have difficulties doing the problems get some feedback and eventually can come up with their own ideas," Corcoran said. "Also, one person might be able to do the problem and not think there's any other way to solve it. But often there's more than just one way to solve a problem."
CORCORAN said one challenge will be to transfer the guidelines offered by the NCTM into the nation's classrooms, and he said textbook publishers probably would need to play a big role in that effort.
Said Frye, "The textbook publishers are indeed one of the partners that we have. Of course, they're also concerned about what sells, but teachers are now asking publishers how their textbooks match these standards."
The NCTM report also makes recommendations for the training of math teachers, as does "A Call for Change," a report released today by the MAA.
That report calls for teachers in grades kindergarten through 12 to understand the use of calculators and computers in teaching math and to appreciate the development of mathematics both historically and culturally. It also calls for math teachers at the secondary level to have the equivalent of a math major.
LEE CAPPS, professor of curriculum and instruction at Kansas University, said most institutions already require secondary math teachers to have a math major or the equivalent of one. Teachers in smaller school districts who must "double up" and teach math in addition to their area of specialty sometimes only have minored in math. However, Capps said, those teachers usually don't teach anything beyond algebra.
Ray Wilbur, chairman of the math department at Lawrence High School, said most of the school's math teachers have majored in that area. If they haven't majored in math, "it's not uncommon for them to take more hours in math after they begin teaching," he said.