What’s math got to do with it?

What's Math Got To Do With It?
by Jo Boaler
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“What’s math got to do with it?” by Jo Boaler is a practical, informative and resourceful book for educators or parents to use in their teaching practice or with their children at home. Teachers and parents will be thrilled by the readability and the clarity of techniques, strategies and methods that can be used to help students engage in the mathematical subject, including:

  • To use mathematically flexibly; decompose and recomposing numbers (pg. 194)
  • Asking mathematical questions and reasoning (pg. 182)
  • Exploring patterns and relationships (pg. 158)
  • To think, generalize and problem solve (pg. 185)

Readers will learn useful and simplified questioning techniques to assist children in understanding mathematical concepts.  Some questions to consider are “What do you think you should do?” or “Why do you think that?” or “How did you get that?” This questioning technique gives teachers and parents a sense of the child understanding of the problem and allows children to further reason and inquire about a given problem.

With numerous mathematical puzzles and interesting problems, this book provides detailed explanation on how to help children understand a problem, an opportunity to explore and ask questions, encourage them to use smaller cases and assist them to make generalizations.

Boaler provides a list of great books and articles related to learning mathematics, assessment for learning and tracking. In addition, there are useful mathematics curricula for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. All in all, Boaler does a great job in providing practical strategies for teachers and parents to help children engage in mathematical problems that challenges children to explore relationships, represent information by using tables or charts and discuss their reasoning with others.

This is a very readable book that explores our current system of math instruction. While it is written from a (mostly) American perspective, we face many of the same issues and challenges in Canada. Boaler presents a clear description of many of the problems with our current system and outlines a compelling vision for a better way of approaching mathematics instruction.

Boaler uses a case study comparing several schools using different approaches to teaching math (a “communicative” approach, a “problem-solving” approach and a more “traditional” approach) and highlights some specific successes and problems. These case studies highlight the impact that effective math instruction has on student learning. Boaler is able to show that emphasizing sense-making rather than memorization increases both student engagement and student achievement – even in a traditional standardized testing format.

In addition to comparing different instructional styles, Boaler also takes on other weighty issues in math instruction. She looks at current issues with standardized testing and best practices in assessment. She shares eye-opening research on the impact of ability groupings on students at all achievement levels. She looks deeply at gender inequity in math class and how we can address this issue in our instruction.

Finally, the book has a chapter aimed at helping parents foster mathematical thinking in young children and provides some open-ended problems and solutions in the appendix.

Overall, this book offers a clear and concise vision for mathematics education. It provides good “food for thought” on key social justice issues in mathematics and is a must-read for any teachers wishing to re-think a traditional approach to math instruction.

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