It seems that one of the many catch-phrases and beliefs in education circles is “engagement”. The thinking is that if we can just get kids to engage in the material, then they would be interested enough to learn what needs to be learned. I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to education as many well-meaning, outspoken people have told me, but I continue to believe that if students know how to do things in math, they find it more enjoyable. If they are struggling because they haven’t mastered basic foundational skills and facts, then despite what experts say, they are pretty much not going to like math all that much.
So it wasn’t surprising to read the latest article about some enterprising people (from U of Arizona and U of Delaware) with degrees in math education and a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation who believe that if mathematics is proven to be “interesting and useful” to students, that’s one key to engagement. Their grant would explore what’s working to motivate students to learn math, recording reactions on a real-time basis.
“This ASU-UD team is the first to research moment-to-moment experiences of high school students studying mathematics over time as part of their three-year, $1.3 million National Science Foundation-funded study, “Secondary Mathematics, in-the-moment, Longitudinal Engagement Study.”
” ‘We recognized a lack of research that could address, methodologically, how to investigate students’ experiences in the moment to understand the nature of their engagement with mathematics in a way that could reveal more general trends,’ Jansen said.
“By understanding these processes, they plan to help teachers to encourage more students to engage deeply, work hard, persist and become more mathematically capable.”
I’m hoping that such study will indicate deficits students may have (like basic foundational skills and facts) that may hinder their progress on even the most interesting of problems.
I found this statement to be rather intriguing by the way:
“It is entirely likely that there are many good ways to teach,” Middleton says, “but that some of those ways may be optimally effective in limited contexts.”
Just a guess, and I know I’m sticking my neck out here, but given that NSF is funding this baby, I’m thinking she means that direct, whole-class, teacher-centered instruction is limited to smart students who would get it no matter how it is taught.