NCTM and High School Math

Dan Meyer:

NCTM proposes a high school course of study premised on:

  • modeling, which students most often experience as pseudocontextual word problems,
  • proof, which students most often experience by filling in blanks in a two-column template,
  • technology, which students most often experience as a medium for mealy, auto-graded exercises,
  • to say nothing of joy and wonder, which most students typically experience as boredom and dread.

This is a multi-decade project! One that will require the best of teachers, teacher educators, coaches, administrators, edtech companies, assessment consortia, policymakers, publishers, and parents. It will require new models of curriculum, assessment, and professional development, all supporting modeling and proof and eliciting joy and wonder from students. It will require a constant articulation and re-articulation of values to people who aren’t NCTM members. That is, changes to the K-8 curriculum required articulation to high school teachers. Changes to the high school curriculum will require articulation to college and university educators! Does anybody even know any college or university educators?

Honestly, this last line is what kills me: “Does anybody even know any college or university educators?”

In retrospect, my personal experience of being a student feels extremely herky jerky. I’m not sure it ever really felt like my entire education was designed to go together. Instead, every year felt like a new challenge in forming my own complete picture from the new puzzle pieces I was being given. (And, given my interest in teaching, new opportunities to observe wildly different approaches to good teaching.)

I find myself torn though. Having spent some time now as a teacher myself, and knowing more than a few, I do think there can be an exasperating feeling of not having colleagues, especially across the spectrum. Of course there should be more opportunities for teachers to gather and swap stories across subject area, geographic region, age range, and level.

We also need a quality standard of some kind for students, if we’re to work toward the ideals of equal opportunity.

And yet, for me, I only felt that my own path through school was stronger for all the disjointedness that I had to navigate myself. I’m probably just articulating my own level of privilege here, but part of me has a hard time letting go of the idea that every child and every student ultimately deserves their own rich and unique path through life.

Does a shared sense of the bare minimum help us get there? I don’t think we have any choice but to hope that’s the case, and support long-term multifaceted endeavors like these to raise the overall bar. But I still hope, perhaps even longer term, that this will simply look like the first step.