I was at a conference two weeks ago now (thought about this then but just getting started and such), and we watched Dan Meyer‘s TEDtalk during a breakout session on STEM education. The presenter prefaced the video by saying she didn’t feel like she could make the case any better than Dan and asking those of us in the audience to raise our hand if we were familiar with him and his work. I was surprised when I was the only person in the room who raised their hand – in fact, I kind of blurted something like “C’mon, I can’t be the only person!” to the other fifteen or so. Later, I gathered that most of the other teacher were actually science teachers, but I was still a little surprised. At the time of writing, the video is creeping up on a million views on TED.com (not sure if that includes the views from their official YouTube channel or not). Personally, I consider this essential viewing for any other math teachers and have shared it with several others. In case, you’ve somehow managed to find this post without being aware of Mr. Meyer’s blog:

I’ve now watched this at least five times and still find it interesting; now if I could just perfectly internalize his approach!

I want to paraphrase something that a science teacher said to the group that I wish I had been able to capture the exact quote…

I feel sorry for the math teachers; they are downtrodden. … extra meetings to create plans to meet goals this time and stress from supervisors constantly looking over their shoulders … math test scores are almost always the lowest. … Some kids just aren’t prepared, and you work really hard to get them as far as you can even if it won’t be enough to ‘pass the test.’ … You don’t hear it enough, but you’re making a difference.

Not an exact quote, but it gives you the flavor of her sentiment. I appreciate her comments, but I’d rather they weren’t necessary. The work being done by the best blogotwittosphere is pretty amazing. I’ll try hard during this next school year to be more like some of the teachers that have chosen to make themselves online leaders (i.e. they are putting their content and thoughts out there to be ‘followed’ or ‘subscribed’ to …). It won’t be easy, but I want to be more effective at helping to answer the question “Is Algebra Necessary?” with a resounding ‘yes, and let’s make it a less miserable experience while we’re at it.’

One more fairly keen insight from that particular breakout session before I forget about it …

The presenter passed out strips of paper with ‘habits of mind’ printed on them. We were supposed to sort them out groups “Mathematics,” “Science,” and “English/Language Arts.” Here is the list; try to sort them for yourself:

- Determine the meaning of symbols and domain specific words
- Integrate information expressed in words with visual representations
- Ask questions and define problems
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
- Construct explanations and design solutions
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively
- Construct viable arguments and critique reasoning of others
- Engage in argument from evidence
- Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment in research, and speculation
- Plan and carry out investigations
- Analyze and interpret data
- Develop and use models
- Model with mathematics
- Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information
- Compare/contrast experimental results with information text
- Cite textual evidence to support analysis
- Use appropriate tools strategically
- Attend to precision
- Follow precisely a multi-step procedure
- Look for and make use of structure
- Analyze the structure used for organization and to enhance understanding
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
- Use math, information/computer technology, and computational thinking

I discovered pretty quickly I was fairly terrible at this activity. I have read the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice several times, but I do not have them memorized. I wasn’t accidentally grabbing just science statements either; I wanted to include a few from English as well. For any readers who might want an answer key:

Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice

- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- Model with mathematics.
- Use appropriate tools strategically.
- Attend to precision.
- Look for and make use of structure.
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The science standards were slightly modified (verb tenses):

Next Generation Science Standards Key Practices

- Asking questions and defining problems.
- Developing and Using Models
- Planning and Carrying out Investigations
- Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information
- Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
- Engaging in Argument from Evidence

She modified some part of the Common Core English Language Arts to create the other red herring statements, but I’m not as sure about the specifics of what and how on these. [EDIT: I think this is the source.]

Of course, the point is that academic domains are artificial creations by humans; the core skills (some refer to them with buzzwords like Habits of Mind or 21st Century Skills) that we really want our students to develop long-term are not mutually exclusive clumps that can be easily labeled.

I really like the exercise of mixing up the “habits of mind.” I’ve worked with the CCSS enough (too much) that I was able to pick out the math ones, but it’s a powerful argument for more cross-curricular work!

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