Thursday, July 3, 2014

One Resource a (Week)Day #6 (Continued): Amazing Jo Boaler Book!

I wanted to follow up on my previous post after finishing Jo Boaler's What's Math Got to Do with it? because I have never read something so deeply moving to me as a math educator. The book was published in 2007, but it is every bit as current today as it was then. The same issue of math wars -- teachers who hold on to their traditional ways of teaching and are scared to reform -- is as real today as it was in 2007. I came from a software engineering background, where truly, as Jo says in her introduction to the book, you use new math that you develop along the way. None of the data-processing algorithms used by any of the big software companies now existed before they developed them. Those textbook-perfected math formulas? You'll likely never see most of them again after formal schooling.

And this is why it frustrates me so much that I still hear discussions about which content strands need to be covered before the end of the year, and why we don't have the room to put in an extra project or two. YES, I know that projects and explorations take time. I know that it takes even more time for kids to navigate their own way through the projects to find their own solutions. And maybe that means you'll have to cut a unit at the end of the year, if you do enough of these interesting tasks. But, isn't it totally worth the time? You're teaching kids how math ties to real life, how to think on their own, how to persevere and (yes, sometimes) to start over. That is OK, for me, especially considering that most kids don't retain a lot of the math facts that they learn in a hurry anyhow. More depth, less breadth should be the name of the game, always!!!!

Jo's book is deeply moving, and also practical for me in thinking about some changes I was already planning to make for next year. Specifically:

  • Giving group tests (which will have NO re-test option allowed) before individual tests, to force kids to communicate/explain the concepts to each other.
  • Peer evaluation of work against learning standard, using the system "2 stars and a wish." Jo cites research that when you spend class time to do this, you are clarifying learning goals and you can cover the same material in half the time.
  • Written math journal, intentional grouping, and structured discussions (as per Complex Instruction) to actively engage all students in a heterogeneous learning environment. (Jo cites anecdotal evidence that mixed-ability grouping yields better learning result for all.)
  • Recognize kids who ask good questions by putting their questions on a poster to keep up.
Her book also talks about why girls struggle particularly in the math classroom, but in a way that praises girls for wishing to think more deeply than the boys (attributing the failure, instead, to the way math is taught in schools). It also has some nice math puzzles to break up the stories... And, although not targeting me, there are some nice sections about how to positively impact your own child's math development at home. 

In short, if you're an educator OR a parent and you have not yet read this book, I highly, highly recommend it! It's a must-read and will help provide some context and insight into the public debates on math standards and math curriculum that will surely (unfortunately) continue for the next few decades. 


  1. Hi! I just wanted to say that I love your blog. All of your writings resonate strongly with everything that I've been thinking about lately. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections, and YES YES YES to all of them!! :)

  2. thank you so much! Sometimes I write and I think (afterwards) I sound too angry, but then it's great to hear someone else agree with me!!!