9
$\begingroup$

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?

$\endgroup$
4
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ Is the course about "how to use maths in your job" (eg handling data from test results) Is it "understanding the maths you will be teaching" (eg what is a fraction really) Is it remedial (eg "Okay, you've forgotten how to add fractions, so we had better re-teach you some grade school math") is it a general college level maths class (eg "lets learn some calculus!") or is it strictly about pedagogy (eg "You know how to add fractions, but we need to teach you how to teach adding fractions"). What do you understand to be the purpose of the course? $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 7:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ At my institution pre-service teachers fill their science content credits within the education or any science department. I have personally witnessed two phenomena worth sharing. 1) education has massive grade inflation with much lower rigor. Science through the education department is designed to help students pass their state certification exams (so taught to that level of depth/breadth). 2) Every lecturer of the education course has a different interpretation of whether the outcome should be content, pedagogy, or both. At the least, this reinforces James K's comment. $\endgroup$
    – Cardinal
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Review the teaching mode and content of some other colleges that you respect. If necessary, talk to a few teachers. Get a sense of the good and bad of both practices. Then go back with some comments. I once did this for two terms courses in statistics for graduate students. The results were useful and enlightening. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ This is the course that helps students pass the PRAXIS. Besides GE, it is the only math class required for the degree. It includes basic number theory "Why does the multiplication algorithm work?" kind of stuff. It looks like I was able to convince them to leave it in the math department, and offered to let them have more control over it (who teaches it, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 20:13

4 Answers 4

24
$\begingroup$

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.]

$\endgroup$
15
$\begingroup$

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.

$\endgroup$
14
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ As much as I like this list and think all these should be requirements in an ideal world, I think this is unrealistic. If we only grant education degrees to people who meet all 4 (or even only to people who meet (d), without worrying too much about (a)-(c)), then we will only grant education degrees to a third of the number of people needed (given the poor pay and working conditions for teachers, very few qualified people actually study education). If we only grant education degrees to a third of the needed number of people, then schools end up forced to hire completely unqualified teachers. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 5:53
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Agree with Alexander. This is a good utopian thought experiment. Given studies show the majority of U.S. elementary teachers can't find the area of a rectangle or 1/3 on a number line, these goals sadly seem like a very heavy lift. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 15:29
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderWoo on the other hand, to expand the number of educators who meet all 4, we need them to be educated by educators who meet all 4. Quite a paradox... $\endgroup$
    – usul
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 15:42
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderWoo I would rather have one third of the workforce needed overall than 2/3 thoroughly undoing the work that 1/3 is doing. The former will force politicians think of setting better salaries and giving higher priorities to education to fix the situation people wouldn't want to tolerate, while the latter will merely create false sense of accomplishment when there is absolutely none. "Ideal world" can and has to be created and maintained by setting and maintaining high standards, not just being dreamed of, and those are in our hands. $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 18:02
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @AlexanderWoo We have shortage of nurses too, but I doubt you will advocate of awarding a nursing degree to a person who has 0 knowledge of anatomy and, when asked to make a blood draw, would poke the needle into your eye. Yeah, the brain death or damage is not as easy to notice immediately as the body one, but it is more dangerous for the development of the technological civilization, IMHO. $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 18:11
4
$\begingroup$

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.

$\endgroup$
5
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Of course, the intellectual aspects are innocent enough. However, one all-too-common administrative hazard is that moving courses to another department eventually translates into moving faculty lines to that department, also. I do not know how to avoid this kind of problem... $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 23:15
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ To clarify, we are talking about the content course. The math teaching methods courses are already in the education department. Unfortunately, we lost both of our math education faculty and administration decided to let us hire only one applied mathematician. Essentially, we've already lost a full-time faculty position, and whether the course is with us or education it would likely be taught by adjuncts. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 3:28
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Paul: Thanks for sharing this. IMO, it's a beautiful case study of the root of all math education problems in the U.S. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 15:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @paul These courses need experts to teach them, full stop. My recommendation would be to make a very strong case that you need to hire more math education focused faculty who can teach these courses. Emphasize the extreme importance of elementary education. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ We have been trying to hire a math education faculty member, but administration denied us. I think I have a couple decent adjuncts lined up. One is a high school math teacher. The other is a recently retired junior high teacher; his wife told me he always complained about how elementary teachers didn't teach math correctly so he's excited to get a chance to make a difference. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 1:32
4
$\begingroup$

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.

  1. Using maths in their role outside the classroom.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

$\endgroup$
5
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Part of this is similar to what I would say: Elementary school math teachers need a profound understanding of fundamental mathematics. If I were hypothetically interviewing to hire such a teacher, I would ask them to show me the algorithm for multiplying two numbers, and then explain to me why the algorithm gives the correct answer (and the same for adding fractions). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 18:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not completely convinced on that tbh there are lots of things that a good elementary school teacher needs to bring to a maths classroom. It is the interaction with children that is key. I'd choose a teacher who can engage children over one who can analyse long division. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ For teaching math to my children, I'd choose one who knows that dividing by zero does not result in "one" over one who can engage children. $\endgroup$
    – david
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, see the paragraph about "remedial" maths. Which I've modified based on your comment. $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 12:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ An elementary teacher needs both: engage the kids and deeply understand the math. That's the only way they can teach it decently. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 21:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.