Students Give Math a Bit More Thought

The teenagers in Stephanie Nichols’s algebra class have nothing on her blank stare. And they can’t even come close to her best confused expression: eyebrows furrowed, mouth frowning, a flash of ditziness framed by a blond bob. Like encouraging men to elaborate about their feelings or getting couples to come clean about their money habits, engaging teenagers in open-ended conversations about math is an uncomfortable challenge.

How does that work? Dunno. Just does. But getting students to better understand how math works—and what it’s good for—are fundamental goals for the nation’s corps of high school math teachers. So says the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which represents about 100,000 of them. The Reston, Va.-based council released new guiding principles for high school mathematics this month emphasizing that “reasoning” and “sense-making” should be at the center of all lessons. The document, which includes specific tips for teachers, administrators and parents, will probably influence how textbooks are written, teachers are trained and lessons are crafted in coming years.

It arrives three years after the group promoted more tightly focused curricula for elementary and middle school math.

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(The Washington Post 10.19.09)

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