I was told the other day from a fellow teacher that they enjoyed math a lot as a child because it was really objective. They recalled problems and questions that had exactly one right answer and enjoyed learning the rules to be able to find that answer.
My response went something like this:
I bet others liked History too as kids since the answers to questions were always right/wrong as well. You know, learn the names and dates, identify key events… There was no room for debate, the facts are the facts, there’s no room to refute the year Columbus landed or which country invaded which other country…
…and I bet many other people really liked writing essays as kids. As long as you can spell, remember punctuation, use the correct grammar and use the right hamburger style paragraph format there would be no red marks on your page. Spelling a word is either right or wrong, there’s no room to argue over if there is a topic sentence or not, or if we remembered a period at the end of the sentence. As long as you included each step, you did well.
…and I bet others really liked Geography too as kids. I mean all you had to know were the definitions of terms, and the capital cities… There was no way to argue a definition or a capital city. Remember these things and you’d do well.
…and I bet many people loved reading in school. All of the questions our teachers asked had answers right there on the page. If you didn’t remember what you read, you could reread if to find the exact answer. There was no debate about if you got the right answer or not, the answers were all there in black and white…
Come to think about it, most subjects were very objective… there was no ambiguity or reasoning or creativity or thinking…just get the right answers and get a good mark!
Now while my colleague stated she completely agreed with my point, she decided to argue back stating something like:
But in math, 2+2 will always equal 4. That’s math!
To which my response was:
…and to many History is about Columbus landing in 1492, not about arguing over the different perspectives or consequences of major events…
…and to many writing is all about the skills of spelling and grammar and structuring paragraphs, not about trying to convince, entertain, explain, or inform…
…and to many reading is about restating what happened or finding key information, instead of understanding character development/motivation or determining the writer’s bias or making inferences…
…and to many Geography is about naming capital cities, instead of looking for patterns of why our planet is the way it is…
At this time we were about to leave the conversation agreeing to disagree, but I thought I would add one last piece:
If we look at any good curriculum and any teacher passionate about their subject, their focus is probably on understanding why things are the way they are. They likely help their students develop by allowing them time to be creative & think critically. They likely focus on developing students to reason and make sense of things. They likely focus on using skills and knowledge as part of the process/product, without isolating them all the time.
While I think most elementary teachers are comfortable with the subjectivity of open questions in reading or writing or History or Geography where there is more than one possible answer, or more than one possible way of explaining an answer, I think many of us have a long way to go in math!
After leaving the conversation, I am now wondering why I believe this to be true? Really what I think this boils down to is our specific knowledge related to the subject. For mathematics, we call this Math Knowledge for Teaching. Take a look below. Which of these areas would you say you are strong in? Which ones do you think you need to continue to develop in (hopefully we can recognize we ALL need to continue to grow)?
The more we learn the mathematics, the deeper we understand the content, the more we understand how the mathematics develops over time, the more we understand which representations and models are the most appropriate at the right time…….. the more likely we will see math as more than a subject filled with distinct rules and procedures all meant to be seen as right or wrong…….. and instead come to see math as an interconnected rich subject filled with thinking and reasoning!
When we start to make these shifts, we come to allow our students to truly appreciate mathematics!