Monday, March 3, 2014

LA Times, The Atlantic… The Message of Math Going Mainstream

Ed Frenkel's latest piece for the LA Times, with his message of bringing math appreciation (and ability) to a wider circle of students, has already been cited quite a bit around the Web, but in case you missed it:

In it he notes that, "...abstraction is all around us — and math is the language of abstraction...
"For the next generation to operate effectively, they must gain proficiency with abstraction, and that means mathematical knowledge plus conceptual thinking times logical reasoning — all things that a wider view of math would bring to the math classes at our schools."

Others frequently talk about this same focus on abstraction in terms of 'pattern recognition,' and in turn, many now use that focus on patterns to stress engaging children in math via their natural, playful interest in patterns.

The Atlantic had a great piece with Maria Droujkova that nicely dovetails, and fleshes out, Frenkel's article (somewhat interestingly, both Frenkel and Droujkova are immigrants from the old USSR):

Droujkova notes that the complexity of ideas and the difficulty of doing them "are separate, independent dimensions,” and children are capable of much more (math) learning than people think. She notes a progression from more informal ideas to more abstract ones and maintains that a "playful aspect" can be "retained along the entire journey": “This is what mathematicians do—they play with abstract ideas, but they still play.”  
Both Droujkova and Frenkel are combating the contagion of so many young people being turned off to math at an early age.

I would urge all parents and educators of youngsters, not already familiar with Droujkova's work, to read the article, and followup with visits to her "natural math" website and related online materials:

I've said it before, and will say it again, we are so lucky to be living in a time when not only does the Web present a vast array of resources at one's fingertips for learning math, but a time when so many passionate people actively take the message of math farther and wider than ever before.

ADDENDUM: on a tangential subject, this morning's Diane Rehm Show (NPR) spent the last hour in a wide-ranging discussion of the controversial Common Core standards (as wide-ranging as could be squeezed into 1 hour):

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