Instead of discussing moral purpose as a teacher (in general), I would like to reveal my moral purpose as a mathematics teacher. You would think they are similar, but I would like to point out that they are not. I have tried for years to find a resource out there online that mirrors my own moral purpose, and I believe I’ve stumbled upon one by pure chance. It is articulated in a paper that was written by Mevarech and Kramarski titled Critical Maths for Innovative Societies: The Role of Metacognitive Pedagogies. Described in the first chapter is what I have been trying to share with math colleagues for years.
“Problem solving is at the core of all mathematics education. The solution of complex, unfamiliar, and non-routine (CUN) problems has to be the cornerstone of any effective learning environment for mathematics for the 21st century. … Mathematical reasoning, creativity and communication are essential components for solving CUN problems. Developing these competencies should not be limited to gifted students or high level grades. On the contrary, they can be applied in all age groups and should be the cornerstone of any effective learning environments.” (2014)
In my opinion, the key phrase is “complex, unfamiliar, and non-routine problems.” The chapter then describes what I have known for years. In traditional texts, story problems are made to utilize the new concept being taught and requires limited knowledge to solve. In fact, most of the problems are not even realistic. I am terrible at describing and sharing my personal thoughts, and so this is my new moral purpose for mathematics education.
So what strategies do I use, and how are they related to my leadership? First off, I need to make sure that what is being described in this paper doesn’t contradict our curriculum, and is in alignment with national authorities making recommendations about math education. According to our Alaska Mathematics Standards from DEED, “Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace.” (2012) I have some issues with the word “can” in this sentence. It should state “will”. To me, “can” implies they would be able to, but makes no assertion that it will happen. A little nitpicky, I know, but it doesn’t contradict this new CUN problems idea, which is excellent. (Note: I did not see any wording or implications about CUN type problems in the State Standards) The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics states “Beyond showing the relevance of mathematics in an array of careers, you should also emphasize its practical value in offering approaches to real problems.” (2009) Again, an emphasis is on real problems, which is great. I have a little issue with the word “value”, but no contradictions thus far. (Note: Again, I didn’t find any reference to doing CUN type problems either.)
Second, now it is a matter of making sure I utilize some CUN problems in my own class if I am to convince other math teachers of the benefits of this approach. Teaching statistics lends itself a little to CUN problems. There is data everywhere and how we analyze it can be applied to real world data. In fact, the textbook I use for the class is filled with real world data. Citations abound and researchers are duly credited.
Lastly, I need to show that having students solve these CUN problems will actually assist them in their ability to show competence in passing standardized assessments that are required in K-12. It might take a few years to see the accomplishments of this new pedagogy, but I do believe that it will increase achievement in the long run.
Fullan describes how if leadership is to be effective, it has to
“(1) have an explicit “making-a-difference” sense of purpose, (2) use strategies that mobilize many people to tackle tough problems, (3) be held accountable by measured and debatable indicators of success, and (4) be ultimately assessed by the extent to which it awakens people’s intrinsic commitment, which is none other than the mobilizing of everyone’s sense of moral purpose.” (2001)
I may not have addressed all these qualities, but it would be my goal in leadership to make the new moral purpose sustainable and succeed in improving students abilities in tackling complex, unfamiliar, and non-routine problems in their lives.
Alaska Mathematics Standards. (2012) Department of Education and Early Development. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://education.alaska.gov/akstandards/math/akstandards_math_081312.pdf
A Teacher’s Guide to Reasoning and Making Sense. (2009). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/uploadedFiles/Standards_and_Positions/Focus_in_High_School_Mathematics/FHSM_TeacherGuide.pdf
Fullan, Michael. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. [PDF]. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED467449.pdf
Mevarech, Zemira; Kramarski, Bracha. (2014) “Mathematics Education and Problem Solving Skills in Innovative Societies”, Critical Maths for Innovative Societies: The Role of Metacognitive Pedagogies. OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264223561-en