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Teaching Math Without Words

by TeachThought Staff

Now here’s an idea: teaching without words.

That’s not such a stretch really. Modeling–demonstrating how to saw a board, shoot a free throw, or use a paintbrush–don’t require words at all. You can watch it done, and then attempt to do it with some help, then try it by yourself. It’s the graduated responsibility model–show me, help me, let me.

We use words–or rather should use words–when words are the best way to communicate an idea. When there is some nuance to a skill (e.g., examples above), the physical demonstration can be supplemented by communication, and communication requires at least two steps:

1. A extends an idea to B using mutually shared symbols (words)

2. B then makes sense of that idea using internal symbols (schema)

This is simpler with one person (A) talking to another (B). Unfortunately, the industrial vision of schools sees a limited distribution funnel that extends from a single point (the teacher) to dozens of receptors (students). This is an efficient way to talk, but not an efficient way to communicate.

Further, consider first that math is a language. When you’re ‘talking about’ math, you’re using set of symbols (letters) to create another set of symbols (words) to describe another set of symbols (numbers). What a mess.

But what if we removed one of those language sets? What sort of simplicity might that allow? That’s what the talk below by Matthew Peterson seeks to explore.

Teaching Math Without Words