I once fixed a broken cruise control on my SUV. I used an internet search engine to look up the specific problem I encountered, I found the exact part number to order from the dealership, and a couple of online videos gave me step-by-step instructions on restoring everything to working order. Of course, I still know nothing about how cruise control works and I didn’t learn much that I could apply to the next problem I had with my car.
Many math classes are taught the same way: teachers show students a very specific list of steps to solve a very specific type of problem. Students who correctly apply those steps achieve a solution – without understanding its meaning or validity. Many math classrooms have a culture focused on solutions: what is the answer? what is the quickest way to find the answer? In her book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Tracy Zager explores what math should be: exploration, thinking, and discovery… not a series of “I do, we do, you do,” problem sets.
Zager strives to disrupt the standard math classroom culture by examining the question: “What do mathematicians do?” If mathematicians connect, reason, make mistakes, take risks, and rise to a challenge, then how do our classrooms create opportunities for students to develop these skills?
I appreciate how cohesive the book is. Zager lays out a clear pedagogical vision, then shows how it impacts so many areas of the classroom. She stresses making intentional decisions in our classrooms. Choose fewer, better problems, that emphasize student learning.
Throughout Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, Zager also alludes to several foundational works in math education. Through this book, I learned about Richard Skemp’s classic article, Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding and John Van de Walle’s “Teaching Developmentally.” Zager constantly references books, articles, and websites allowing the reader to truly explore topics that hit home.