Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pluses and Minuses of Reformed Texts

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pluses and Minuses of Reformed Texts

Article excerpt

I CONFESS that I have not seen the much-maligned "rain forest algebra" book, probably the most widely cited example of the horrors of so-called fuzzy math. It purportedly makes extraneous environmental messages central and essential algebra peripheral. But I have seen my elder daughter's textbook for the second-year algebra course in our local high school.

That book, new this year, is a vast improvement over the texts used in my school days or the ones I've seen since. The most obvious improvement is the strong focus on modeling and working with algebraic representations of data. Even during the "dark days" of the New Math when I was in school, the texts sought to provide a real-world context for the math we were learning, but in the 1960s that "context" was obviously contrived. The numbers in data sets tended to be whole numbers or decimals with lots of common factors. Today, even the examples (not to mention the suggested student investigations) have the messiness of real data.

My daughter's algebra text reflects the tenor of the Standards documents of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The students engage in important mathematical learning that is related to real-world contexts, but the important abstractions are present and expressed just as we oldsters remember them: b1/n = c if and only if b = cn. The text is attractively illustrated and offers numerous connections to history, culture, science, and so on. And, yes, some of those connections are unrelated to the math. For example, embedded in a discussion of a Paiute game of chance involving the tossing of colored sticks, there is a photo of Sarah Winnemucca, who is described as an educator, interpreter, and spokeswoman for Native American rights. The photo has nothing to do with probability, game theory, or simulations. But it's only the size of two postage stamps and, in the interests of cultural literacy, how can anyone be upset by its presence?

Other graphics, by contrast, are right on the mark. …

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