Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Using Inquiry Principles of Art to Explore Mathematical Practice Standards

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

Using Inquiry Principles of Art to Explore Mathematical Practice Standards

Article excerpt

The Challenges We Face

Scholarly reports document the ongoing scrutiny of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States (Dautrich, 2009; Hill & Ball, 2005; International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, 2011). Reports of diminished returns in the field are reflected in global rankings where U.S. standings fall below that of other developed nations (U.S. Department of Education, 2008). These reports have prompted STEM educators to rethink how we prepare preservice teachers to be effective teachers of STEM. This reality coincides with the advent of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M)-a rigorous set of guidelines that hold the potential to create a paradigm shift in the field. Aligned to the CCSS-M, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (2010) has published the Standards for Mathematical Practice to establish a set of recommendations for exemplary mathematical performance. This body advocates for skills and proficiencies that include comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations, as well as skills in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately. Moreover, these practices aim to promote a view of mathematics that is "sensible, useful and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one's own efficacy" (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010, p. 6). Whereas the CCSSM M "what" content to teach, the Standards for Mathematical Practice provide insight into "how" to teach that content. These new standards and practices create a set of challenges of their own-namely, educators at all levels are presented with the challenge of how to best implement them.

This challenge is exacerbated by current school funding structures at the middle-grades level which have led to cuts or elimination altogether of the arts. Faced with difficult budgetary decisions, many districts have opted to focus on core subject matter to the exclusion of the arts (Davis, 2006; Israel 2009). In an age of increased STEM accountability, the argument to limit arts education is predicated on the belief that mathematics and science instruction should take precedence over music, fine art, and creative composition. This reality is troublesome onmultiple levels. First, the arts teach more than self-expression and creativity. Baker (2011), for instance, found middle school students who were enrolled in music courses performed significantly better on high-stakes state tests than students not enrolled in music education while other scholars have linked arts education to improved graduation rates (Israel, 2009). Second, the National Task F orce for the Arts in Education (2009) has documented skills and dispositions the arts teach that transcend subject matter. This scholarship highlights the role the arts play in fostering increased communication skills and critical thinking abilities, and in developing a global perspective. These skills are strikingly similar to those called for in the Standards for Mathematical Practice. In contradiction to the notion that the arts are a mere addon to the middle school curriculum, we argue that STEM education generally and the Mathematical Practice Standards specifically might be more fully realized through the integration of rather than the exclusion of the arts.

The research at hand is an extension of our earlier research where we looked at content integration as a means to disrupt the deep-seated beliefs preservice teachers often hold about STEM education. Specifically, we reported on our work with middle childhood mathematics education majors as they developed their abilities to integrate mathematics and art through participation in a yearlong partnership we created with our local museum of art, culminating in a 2-week study abroad trip. (See Douglass, Conley & Trinkley, 2013 for a complete description of this work). The findings from our previous study led us to look more closely at how STEM plus the arts-STEAM-might assist practitioners in realizing the call set forth in the Standards for Mathematical Practice. …

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