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Day 15/10/2012

Re-Imagine Math

The rethinkED team has been rethinking the way we do math and in some ways it means we’re rethinking how we teach, well, everything. We have in no way been doing this alone. We have been exhaustively working with the math faculty at Riverdale Country School to reap the wisdom of how they face the quintessential disengaged frustrated math student and turn the student’s math experience around..

Through interviews with math teachers and research, the rethinkED team has been uncovering the challenges and set backs of learning and teaching math in schools. We identified many of the hopes and dreams for what math class could look like for teachers.

Next we tackled the research out there on learning math that could help pave the way for a better future in mathematics instruction. In our reading through articles we found questions about whether we should teach algebra at all. And we found vociferous yeses that we should.

We watched inspired math teachers and thinkers talk. Math teacher and blogger Dan Meyer opens his Ted talk saying,“I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but is forced by law to buy it.” He goes on to expound how students need to learn to build the math problems and that math learning needs to be based on intuition. In essence, the students need to be building the math models in order to use and apply them. He ends his talk saying, “We need more patient problem solvers.”

Similarly, Conrad Wolfram, brother of Steve Wolfram of Wolfram Alpha, in his ted talk speaks passionately about the need to use computers to teach math. He bemoans the fact that all of math education is around simply learning to calculate instead of allowing computers to do the calculations and having students think more creatively. He said students need to learn to ask the right questions, use real world problems, create math problems and see if they work back into the real world. “Math has been liberated from calculating” Conrad says, just the education world doesn’t realize it. What we want, he says, are “people who can feel math intuitively.” Through his presentation he shows how this can be done and why he thinks this must be done.

How do we help students build patience, reflective thinking, a metacognitive sense of their own learning? These questions tie in with some of our other projects as well.

Coming up we are working on organizing a one day workshop for the math faculty at RCS.  Stay tuned for more!

Italo Calvino on rethinking the same things with other words, perhaps ending up on strange ground, far from safe paths

Looks like October 15th is a good day to be born for rethinkers…* Along with Friedrich Nietzsche (1844) & Michel Foucault (1926), the Cuban born Italian writer, Italo Calvino, was born today in 1923. Celebrate with an excerpt from his glorious novel, Mr. Palomar, before heading over to The Guardian to listen to Jeannette Winterson‘s superb reading of Calvino’s short story Night Driver.


The fact is that he would like not so much to affirm a truth of his own as to ask questions, and he realizes that no one wants to abandon the train of his own discourse to answer questions that, coming from another discourse, would necessitate rethinking the same things with other words, perhaps ending up on strange ground, far from safe paths. Or else he would like others to ask him questions; but he, too, would want only certain questions and not others: the ones he would answer by saying the things he feels he can say but could say only if someone asked him to say them.

Source: Calvino, Italo. Mr Palomar. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1983. Print.

Friedrich Nietzsche on Man as the Appraising Animal in Itself…*

A great follow-up to yesterday’s quote from Raymond Williams’ essay, Advertising: The Magic System, from Friedrich Nietzsche–who was born on this day in 1844. Enjoy and rethink…*

The feeling of guilt, of personal obligation–to take up the train of our investigation again–had its origin, as we have seen, in the oldest and most primitive relationship among persons there is, in the relationship between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor: here for the first time person stepped up against person, here for the first time a person measured himself by another person. No degree of civilization however low has yet been discovered in which something of this relationship was not already noticeable. Making prices,  gauging values, thinking out equivalents, exchanging–this preoccupied man’s very first thinking to such an extent that it is in a certain sense thinking itself: here that oldest kind of acumen was bread, here likewise we may suspect the first beginnings of human pride, man’s feeling of pre-eminence with respect to other creatures. Perhaps our word “man” (manas) still expresses precisely something of this self-esteem: man designated himself as the being who measures values, who values and measures, as the “appraising animal in itself.” –Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality

Source: Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality. Trans. Clark, Maudelaire and Alan J., Swensen. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc, 1998. Print. 45.

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