Putting 'WHY' First


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"People don't buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it." Simon Sinek

As I see it, math teaching is becoming more and more distanced from what are considered 'best practices' in other content areas. What pass for big ideas in the lower grades serve mainly to feed understanding and skills development in the upper grades. As the math work becomes increasingly abstract, math learning becomes an essential skill, not because it helps young people understand the world around them in an intuitive or deeper way, but because it's the gold ticket to a better paid job and economic security. Going to math class after math class becomes an endurance test -- a test of character if you will. The essential question for many students is whether they last long enough and cobble together enough skills to pass enough courses to graduate and win the right to finally put math behind them.

I know that math teachers have no more room for adding on. The curriculum is packed, students struggle with the basics, and every day we make decisions about what should be the real focus of math teaching and how to get kids to think mathematically when they don't seem to have the basics. Still, I believe It's time for us math educators to do the deep thinking and re-visionsing of our teaching needed to breathe life into math learning. Math's truths are not self-evident. It's our job, not just to connect the math dots for our kids, but to embed concept learning and skills development inside a context that will enable students to see how their learning can help better understand and navigate their world -- NOW ... REALLY.
I believe this is the 'big idea' of math teaching -- or it should be. The job should be more than packing learners' brains full of skills that will be useful sometime. It we don't know enough about how people learn and how the skills we're teaching are used in the real world, then we need to find out. With that knowledge we can find a way to restructure the way we unfold math for our students so their 'why' questions are answered with more than platitudes and put-offs. When students leave math class feeling their lives have been enriched and they have developed insight into how the world works, then learning and using math will become important to them and remembering will become important.
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