Thinking about our Methods syllabi…

Hi folks – Mike Steele here from the leadership team.  The recent AMTE Standards for Preparing Teachers of Mathematics have sparked a lot of conversation and debate recently.  There are a number of ideas that I find to be intriguing and have sparked additional thinking on my part about how I organize my mathematics methods courses.  In particular, candidate standard C.4 on the Social Contexts of Mathematics, and Indicator C.3.3, Anticipate and Attend to Students’ Mathematical Dispositions stand out for me as areas in which I could personally strengthen my methods repertoire.  I wondered what messages I am (or am not) sending to my students about what it means to know and do mathematics, how we structure the learning opportunities with respect to mathematics and the teaching and learning of mathematics in our methods courses, and what changes I might consider making to provide a more transparent and coherent message.  When we discussed this matter as a leadership team, it was suggested that we perhaps take a look at our syllabi as a starting point for this work.  As such, I’m providing the syllabus for my fall course – essentially the ‘middle’ course in a three-course methods sequence at UWM – as sacrificial analytic fodder.  I’ll reflect a little bit about what I notice in this syllabus with the lenses of the Standards, as well as some comments about edTPA and state licensure.  I invite you all to comment and engage in further discussion using my syllabus as a starting point.

Two caveats as we go:

  1. Don’t pull any punches.  If you see things in this syllabus of which you are critical, be critical.  Don’t worry, I’ve been doing this long enough that I can take it.
  2. Please be respectful of my intellectual resource.  I am happy to let people borrow and adapt ideas you see here, but I’d appreciate it if you could hit me with an email letting me know that you’d like to use something from the document.

Click here to see my syllabus for Curriculum & Instruction 532, Teaching Secondary Mathematics from Fall 2016.  It’s long.

Things I notice and things I wonder about in my syllabus in thinking about mathematical dispositions and social context

  • I notice that the syllabus has a long statement about the dynamics of what my students will need now, as they embark on their field experience, and what I wish them to have more durably going forward (forever).
  • I notice that there are some very measured messages about what we know about mathematics teaching and learning.
  • I wonder if the intent of this statement – to communicate that teaching mathematics is not just a matter of style – comes through.
  • I notice that there are few times in the syllabus where I talk specifically about doing mathematics or what a productive learning disposition towards mathematics is.
  • I notice also that there are times, like in the narrative around the grading section, where I paint a portrait of what a learning disposition within the content course might look and sound like.
  • I wonder if my students see this as a reflection on learning disposition or a more pragmatic set of rules to follow to earn a grade.
  • I notice in the calendar section that we do a lot of mathematics as a part of the course.
  • I wonder if my students see this work as valuable to them, and if so, how. I have previously conceptualized it as a requisite step to get into talking about teaching using those tasks (through narrative and video cases), but rarely have I focused on the role that mathematical dispositions and social contexts play as we are doing mathematics together.

What do you notice?  What are you wondering about?

Where I might go with a revision

I’m teaching this class again in the fall, as I have for years.  I’m also bringing into that experience some doctoral students in an effort to support their learning about how to be an effective methods teacher.  As such, I’m reflecting critically on what might change with this syllabus.  I’m also thinking forward about the changes to licensure on the horizon (what does preparing secondary teachers for grades 4-12 look like?), and considering also the characteristics of a well-started beginning teacher in the AMTE Standards document.  Here are some things I think I might aim to revise prior to the fall semester.

A more direct statement about mathematics learning. My intention for this course is for students to also learn something about mathematics, and to shift their own dispositions about what it means to know and do mathematics. (Often times, our secondary candidates to not come in with a rich conception of what mathematics is, what it means to know and do it, and who can and should have access to that set of ideas.) Speaking more directly to this issue, rather than hoping to quietly shape it through candidates’ experiences, would raise the likelihood that change would happen.

Stronger integration of the social contexts of teaching and learning mathematics. I notice that few of my assignments, if any, ask my students to discuss the social contexts of mathematics and how the work they are doing in their field experiences supports providing each and every student with an opportunity to learn.  It strikes me that work on this idea early on in the methods sequence would also help with the edTPA work, in which the Context for Learning statement frames how reviewers evaluate the candidate’s teaching. A first step in this work might be to ask them to frame any classroom analysis in which they engage with a statement about the context, and bookend that with an analysis of how what they were trying to do instructionally in the classroom did (or did not – failure is always an option) provide more students with access to the mathematics.

I would also think that my spring syllabus, the third course in the sequence, might be able to more directly address social context issues. Students are in full-time student teaching experiences by then and may have a richer perspective with which to comment on the social contexts of mathematics.  That being said, I wonder a bit if I put off this conversation by assuming that students will not have the experience to have it.  Am I making an invalid assumption?

My down-the-road wonderings

With the prospect of preparing students to teach grades 4-12 on the horizon, I wonder how and where I will integrate meaningful attention to the grades 4 and 5 content.  The first methods course is a bit more of a survey of middle grades content; I focus on algebra and function from a high school perspective in this course for which you see the syllabus.  I wonder if broadening further to think about what we can learn about mathematical trajectories, and looking less at specific topics and more about how mathematical understandings evolve across grades, might better equip my students to make sense of the mathematics. It’s an interesting thought.

What do you think?

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