Sunday, January 24, 2010

Erlwanger's Paper in a Nutshell

Erlwanger's main point is the necessity for reasoning behind mathematical rules. He stresses the need to understand the concepts underlying the procedures. Benny's main problem was that he was not able to derive his rules from mathematical concepts. When Erlwanger questioned Benny's rules, many of them had shaky reasoning. Benny had no idea why his own "rules" were correct, he simply used them. Erlwanger's paper is pointing out that had Benny been taught mathematical concepts, his rules would have made sense to him, and Benny could have enjoyed mathematics.

This goes back to the difference between relational and instrumental understanding. Benny thought math had no reason. He called it magic and he said it didn't make sense, however he was doing very well on his exams and homework assignments. This is a little warning sign to teachers that good grades do not always mean the student understands. Sometimes in math classes we are pressured into working more for the grade and less for the understanding. This is a problem teachers need to try and avoid because as we were shown in Benny's case it is detrimental to actual learning.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two Types of Understanding

Students can learn mathematics in one of two ways, namely relational understanding and instrumental understanding. Instrumental understanding simply teaches the students how to find the correct answer, no more no less. Relational understanding also teaches the student how to find the correct answer, but it goes beyond that and teaches the student why that is the way to find the correct answer. Thus we see they are both effective in getting the student to pass the class, or maybe just a particular assignment, but in the long run relational understanding is more beneficial to the student's learning. The positive sides to instrumental understanding is that the results are seen quickly, and the rules are usually easier to understand than are the concepts behind those rules. Because of these benefits, students are able to find answers more quickly. However, with relational understanding students are able to adapt to new tasks more easily. They can see a new subject build off a previous one. Though relational concepts are not easier to understand, they are easier to remember because the student learns the big picture, and is then able to apply that bigger idea to smaller scenarios. It is easy to see issues with instrumental understanding; the students forget more easily, they do not know how to evolve what formulas they learned, etc. However there are several disadvantages to relational understanding. It takes a long time to achieve relational understanding, sometimes the level of difficulty exceeds the students' abilities, and often it is hard for teachers to teach relational understanding when so many of their colleagues are not doing so. However, it is still a good procedure to help students understand the fundamental ideas behind the method for solving a problem. Instrumental understanding is embedded within relational understanding, we simply need to broaden what we teach so that students can truly understand what they learn.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

1. What is mathematics?
Mathematics is finding a concrete process to solve a problem. It is not very debatable that is what makes it so perfect.

2. How do I learn mathematics best? Explain why you believe this.
I learn mathematics best when a teacher can explain a process and then give examples on how to solve related problems. Since most mathematics is a process with little opinion involved, it is necessary to learn a lot by example. Once I can to a few examples it is easy to do almost any similar problems.

3. How will my students learn mathematics best? Explain why you think this is true.
I would like my students to be able to learn mathematics best through asking questions when they don't understand. I would like them to also learn by working on guided problems in class and then being able to test their own abilities as they go home and try to do similar problems on their own. I think that if they can follow and participate through suggestion or question they will be better able to complete homework problems which will help the ideas stay strong in their mind. It is an invigorating feeling to be able to do a homework problem all by yourself so that is what I would like to see my students enjoying.

4. What are some of the current practices in school mathematics classrooms that promote students' learning of mathematics? Justify your reasoning.
When students are encouraged to give their suggestions on how to solve a problem, it strongly promotes their learning and confidence. When they give a correct solution, or even if they give a mostly correct process to find a solution it helps to reassure their studies and knowledge. Another current practice is splitting students up into small groups or partners to work on harder problems. It helps the students to bounce ideas off of each other and using their notes and textbook they are able to find solutions without very much help needed from the teacher. A valuable tool for students is their text and it is so important for them to realize this is more than just a spot to find homework.

5. What are some of the current practices in school mathematics classrooms that are detrimental to students' learning of mathematics? Justify your reasoning.
A major detriment to students' learning is when teachers assign homework that they don't intend to collect. This puts the students in a situation where most of the time they don't actually do the assignment. I find homework to be one of the most important ways to learn math. When students don't diligently try the homework on their own, it puts them at a disadvantage for the exams.