[Numeracy 627] That old thinking style thing

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Susan Jones sujones at parkland.edu
Fri Dec 17 16:19:00 EST 2010

It's the very last day of final exams.

THis week I've been reminded with live in person people how important it is to learn *how to think* about the math as opposed to learning how to do the procedures. There are just too many procedures that kinda sorta look the same to keep track of them all. Not only that, this particular math curriculum makes problems that *don't* really look the same. I'm watching students who've avoided math all year struggle hard to memorize these procedures... so when the length is 6 more than the width, and you write "6w" and I ask "what math are you doing there?" you look blankly at me.

I walk you through the "more than" concept and I watch it "click" and you are mildly astonished and think I'm wonderful... but I am thinking that it's time I at *least* put together some videos that take all that stuff with the x's and show LOTS of examples of putting numbers in there for the x's. For students who do have some number sense, plugging in numbers and *testing* adding 3x + 2x and discovering that it's 5x no matter what you call x... as long as you call it the same thing... could really help. (I'm also trying to figure out ways to do this that *aren't* entirely depending on language and discussion... some of my guys get *so* much smarter when they can see things...)

I also stumbled over an article online about using videos to create a conceptual concept for fractions (full text is at http://springerlink.com/content/07300u8h0w40uj70/ ) -- and was mildly astonished myself that the researchers noted that the students did do better with the fractions, but that without direct intervention, focused on procedure, not concept. Yup, we can deliver the bestest and brightestest "conceptual framework" -- but to some of our students this is a bafflingly confusing way of showing them the procedures they're tuned in for. I've watched students read through "Six step problem solving methods" and the like and ... it's another Layer of Procedure. Not only do they have to figure out how to do the math, but they also have to figure out how to Do the Steps.

I'm curious -- what are other folks doing to engage students in that elusive comprehension aspect?

Susan Jones
Academic Development Specialist
Center for Academic Success
Parkland College
Champaign, IL 61821
sujones at parkland.edu