MATH MEANING MAKING
Math Interest, unlike motivation, means exactly what it says – that a person is interested in mathematics. Math as language, math as a way to solve problems, math as a skills set, math as a historical human phenomenon, math as a structure of the universe – or the human mind – or both, math as beauty and elegance, math as wonder, math as origami or baseball stats or airplane flying or biology or medical matters – or anything that people might have an interest to learn or do math because they want to, at their own discretion. Math motivation, on the other hand – often seems like someone else is trying to motivate other people to do or like something they don’t like or want to do. Math motivation sounds Skinnerian. I think of Math Interest in more Rogerian terms.
The kind of interest I’m thinking of is not unlike when people enjoy reading and literature. Regardless, there are a million and one reasons to be interested in math – or perhaps seven billion reasons, one for every human on earth
Math fluency is the domain I think schools are most comfortable with and they tend to fall into things traditional schooling seems apt to attempt to develop as skills, practices, short term and long term memory related capacities and what I will call automaticity borrowing from traditionally used language for reading literacy. Fluency in this sense is what students can do and easily act on without a great deal of deep thinking. That is, can they carry out the basic math operations, can they recall and convert fractions, decimals, percentages, can they carry out the basic procedures required to demonstrate mastery on grade level standards or expectations. This fluency is what standardized tests have traditionally required to demonstrate mastery and now in new more demanding forms these skills and fluencies are the prerequisites for students to be able to work on problem solving tasks without the impedance of struggling without their automatic access. In simple terms, it’s hard to solve complex problems when you can’t easily access and perform the skills and practices needed to work through the problem.
Math meaning – making is the aim of the learning. We aim for learners to be able to understand the world they live in as well as conceptual abstractions through engagement and use of math language. This meaning – making can result in a number of basic to complex outcomes including applications to real – world problems as well as wondering about the greatest questions and paths of inquiry. I see meaning – making as connected to fluency and interest. The more meaning we make the more we are interested in many cases, while the more fluent we become we are availed of greater opportunities and levels of meaning – making. Ultimately, meaning making is socially constructed from a Vygotskian view and these meanings are shared and connected through discourse and various forms of exchange. Math meaning – making takes place in every form of human interaction and scales up and down with personal and mathematical development inclusive of interest and fluency components.
Framing and discussing these suggested frames on math learning are intended to disrupt the systemically failing systems of math instruction that have historically turned the majority of learners away from interest and potential meaning – making all the while diminishing the fluencies that have overwhelmingly been the focus of math learning activities and targets.