I recently was appointed math department chair at a small university. We have a 3 credit math for elementary teachers content course. Administration told us they will change this course into an elementary education course. Basically, it will go from being called MA XXX to ELED XXX with the elementary education department overseeing it. Are there any problems with this?
It seems like a big problem to me.
So many people in education are scared of math. You need a course that helps teacher candidates get over their fear. And you need someone who loves math teaching it. Will there be anyone in the education department who loves math and understands it deeply? (And there is a depth of understanding for teaching that most people are unaware of. See Liping Ma's book, Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics.)
[In Fedja's list, a to c seem too high level to me. Part d, oh yes! My own list would include really understanding place value and fractions. I taught this course long ago, and loved it.]
That depends on who is really going to teach those classes (real people with all their attitudes, biases, (lack of) intelligence, etc., etc.). The real problem currently seems to be that the math education the teachers usually get is of too low level and the requirements are too lax. I'm not saying that the teachers should know what some advanced math concepts are (I don't know many of those myself despite my pretending to be a mathematician and a professor for 20+ years). However they should
a) To be able to solve standard problems in elementary geometry, number theory, and combinatorics.
b) To be able to distinguish between a valid and an invalid mathematical argument written in free format (and between a statement and a non-statement too)
c) Be comfortable with using quantifiers and negating statements like "for every cat, there is a mouse the cat will not eat".
d) Like to play with mathematical concepts and ideas as children play with toys and be skillful in setting up such games. (You may laugh at this requirement as much as you want, but, IMHO, nothing is more discouraging than "the beastly seriousness". Even utter incompetence is not that detrimental to the learning process if the students are bright enough).
If you have people in Math department who can achieve those goals better than the people in Education, by all means keep those classes there. If it is the other way around, pass them to Education. In any case, even if you disagree with the above list, just make your own and decide based on it. Our task, as educators, is just to provide good enough educational options for the students and to keep the standards high enough. Pride, redistribution of money between the departments, retention rates, and student or administrator happiness are not that important on the grand scale of events.
Of course, this all applies if you are dealing with reasonable people (in your opinion). If you think that you will be dealing with greedy idiots, my advice is to fight any change whatsoever because then it will always end up being a change to the worse no matter how nice the intent is and how convincing the arguments in favor of it are.
There is no universal consensus. Some of these courses are taught in math departments, and some of them are taught in education departments. Do you have faculty who are experts at this content and would be disappointed if they were not able to teach them anymore? If so, you should help to either fight against this transition, or negotiate the transition gracefully. If you do not have faculty experts I see no harm in letting the Education department take on this duty if they want to do so.
What is the purpose of the course? Such a course could have different purposes. Elementary teachers will be using maths in two very different ways.
- Using maths in their role outside the classroom.
- Teaching maths to their students.
If the purpose of the course is to ensure that the future teachers can deal with the maths in the work environment of a school, they need to be able to handle data (from tests) interpret correlations, organise a calendar, work out taxes, work out the stagger on a 400m track.
Such a course could work in either department. The level is not particularly high. It may be better within the educational dept, since the maths isn't really college level. Educationalists may bring genuine experience. "Maths for plumbers" may be better taught by a successful plumber who understands the maths that plumbers need. The same is true for teachers.
If the course is about the maths that they will teach, then the content would be very different. It might be:
- Remedial. Some might need grade-school level teaching because they can't,(for example) add two fractions together. Or (as suggested in comments) that "dividing by zero equals one". Teachers do need to to have the skills that they will teach to children.
- Foundational. It may be advantageous for teachers who can do maths to grade school level to understand the subject that they will teach more deeply. The don't need to know calculus to teach fractions, but they may benefit from a deeper understanding of what fractions really are.
- Pegagogy. Knowing how to teach fractions is different from knowing how to add fractions. The course could focus on pedagogy not maths.
Remedial maths needs someone who can teach at (grade) school level.
Foundational maths probably needs a mathematician.
Teaching pedagogy is clearly well within the remit of the education department.
Finally the courses might not be about school at all. It might be about playing with ideas and developing problem solving skills, rather than having anything to do with specific knowledge required in the classroom. It might be a calculus course or linear algebra or something off the wall like the theory of knots. The aim of such a course is to develop a love of maths at a higher level.
And I suppose there is also a course that is a mere box ticking exercise: They have to do math, so we do maths.
Whether brilliant or boring, it would be normal for a mathematician to lead such a course.