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I attended a really great university with excellent math professors, engaged and intelligent classmates, and great community. However, my education classes were horrendous to say the least. While I took hard and enjoyable math classes, my education classes were taught by boring, preachy, and uninterested profs who gave trivial homework and rote-learning tests all about the importance of learning styles and assessment.

Since setting out on my own teaching journey, I'm slowly recovering from my education class malaise by reading Neil Postman, learning about KIPP schools, and visiting this site.

What inspires you to more deeply think and learn about education and pedagogy? What books, authors, ideas, articles, etc. have guided you to this end?

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5 Answers 5

While my answer is not a book, author, idea, or article, it is a source of ideas: conferences of people who are interested in such things are very good for inspiring you to learn. The American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) has affiliates in each region and many of them host annual conferences. My first experience at the Illinois conference was excellent.

I can't speak to specific conferences outside of the community college scene, but I assume such things exist for math education at other levels.

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In my particular case, I was lucky to have some very inspiring teachers, and to be teaching assistant in large, well-organized courses. Yes, other teachers were awful, but I learned how to teach from the ones I admire (and I hope I'm doing them justice in my work). I learned a lot from colleagues, even (or perhaps particularly) from ones in other fields. Reading a lot of different textbooks has shown different approaches, and thus to be able to select different techniques when one doesn't seem to work.

I joined here in the hope to add a bit to the toolbox (and also to help out others). Up to here it has been worthwhile, I've learned a bit and got useful suggestions.

Perhaps the most important step on the road of becomming a better educator is to just recognize that having a fancy degree doesn't mean squat. Make sure you understand where the student's thinking process goes awry, and how to straighten it up. See where the learning process gets off track, and see how to keep it running (in my courses, with mostly completely unfamiliar subject matter, the standard "cram the last two days" technique is a recipe for disaster, so in the weekly exercise session with the TAs we propose three problems, one to be solved by the TA with the class, one to be solved by the class with help from the TA, and a third one to be turned in for an aggregate 5% of the final grade. This problem is just graded as "looks like it makes sense," no detailed checking. All problems and solutions are published the same week. It made wonders to the results last term, but I'll run it a few more times.).

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That's a nice approach ("graded as 'looks like it makes sense' :) ). –  Mark Fantini Apr 14 at 5:39
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@Fantini, I don't want the TAs spending much time on this. The objective is to get the students to at least take a real look at the problem, not seeing if they did it right. –  vonbrand Apr 14 at 13:05

For math pedagogy, I recommend exploring some of the blogs out there, in particular Dan Meyer's blog. He also has a great TEDx talk. The whole online community of math educators, sometimes called the mathtwitterblogosphere, is worth exploring. What's out there ranges from virtual filing cabinets of creative lessons, to folks venting about common frustrations, to more philosophical and academic reflections. I recommend using an RSS reader like feedly to maintain some subscriptions and when you find bloggers who are especially thoughtful, look at their "blog rolls" - lists of blogs they follow - to find other good sources. There's the potential to have a conversation through comments, through blogging yourself, or through Twitter.

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A perhaps unusual recommendation: Lakoff and Núñez's book Where Mathematics Comes From, despite suffering from being mildly repetitive, has made me think very differently about mathematics education, as long as this is defined as the activity of instilling mathematical understanding in students (versus "mere" mathematical knowledge).

Lakoff and Núñez, more clearly than any other authors I am aware of, explore exactly what mathematical understanding is. It may change everything about what you think your task as a mathematical educator is.

(P.S. sorry for the excess of italics. I'm a glutton for emphasis.)

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What level(s) do they cover? AFAIU, primary/secondary school is very different from undergraduate/graduate (where my interest lies). –  vonbrand Apr 14 at 13:07
    
@vonbrand The initial portions of the book discuss arithmetic, the later portions discuss set theory. The central theme is that mathematical understanding is a remarkably embodied phenomenon; it's this idea, what it means and how it happens that I think the book conveys well. –  Shay Apr 14 at 17:13

The best way is to surround yourself with people who are creative, smart, and actively thinking about and using effective pedagogy in the classroom. Twitter can be great for this. I'm fortunate to be in a department full of such people, such as David Coffey, John Golden, and others. I can just walk down the hall and embroil myself in a fascinating conversation about pedagogy any time I want.

When it comes to writing, I find Lara Alcock's research to be fantastic and fascinating and inspiring. Also the work of my former boss and mentor Linda Nilson, who basically taught me how to teach and whose book Teaching at its Best was my very first introduction to the scholarship of teaching and learning.

I think most of all, though, my inspiration comes from working with my students, who are always pushing me out of my comfort zone and inspiring me to get better at my craft and improve on my ideas.

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