ENGAGING CHILDREN IN THE Work of Mathematicians
Jensen, Carla, Whitehouse, Tamara, Coulehan, Rachael, Teaching Children Mathematics
A mathematician's work involves observing something in the natural world, making an abstraction, recording a finding, and then communicating the outcome using the language of mathematics (Devlin 1994). Mathematicians connect their observations with what they already know and attempt to fit it into some mathematical pattern (Polya 1957).
In the last hundred years the type of work involved in the study of mathematics has undergone a change. Mathematics has grown to include so many new and different facets that mathematicians have had to redefine their own work. Instead of defining the field as a collection of isolated disciplines, the focus of today's mathematicians is on seeing patterns and making connections within mathematics (Devlin 1994).
This article describes two teachers, Rachael and Tamara, whose own understanding of the work of mathematics has changed their approach to teaching mathematics. Rachael and Tamara, along with a colleague, formed a study group to research the investigative process used by today's mathematicians. Their synthesis of that process--observing, abstracting, recording, and communicating--serves as a model for students in their classrooms.
Modeling the Mathematics Process
Rachael's first-grade students are gathered on the floor in front of her easel. The focus for this week's mathematics investigation is geometry. Rachael starts her demonstration by making a picture with pattern blocks (see fig. 1).
Rachael shares her thinking with her students, "I used different shapes to make this picture of a tree. I wonder, how many shapes do I have here? I have two different kinds of shapes. I used these trapezoids at the bottom to form the trunk. How many are there? Let me count them: 1, 2, 3." By talking aloud, Rachael is showing students how she thinks mathematically about what she sees.
"Now I am going to write the number 3 down. Let me count the shapes at the top. I see these are squares. There are four: 1, 2, 3, 4. I am going to write that number down. I'm …
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Publication information: Article title: ENGAGING CHILDREN IN THE Work of Mathematicians. Contributors: Jensen, Carla - Author, Whitehouse, Tamara - Author, Coulehan, Rachael - Author. Magazine title: Teaching Children Mathematics. Volume: 6. Issue: 8 Publication date: April 2000. Page number: 490. © 1999 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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