Love should be the goal of education

by Jacob Mohler

The following post comes from Jacob Mohler, Math department co-chair at Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis, Missouri. From Jacob’s bio on the Westminster website:

I became a math teacher because I wanted students to learn math in a better environment than I did. A teacher who was trained to teach English taught me math. There are wonderful notions in math of how numbers found in the natural world point to a Creator. For this reason, as I noticed how God has left clues for us to see His handiwork, I wanted to find ways to show students similar things. Thinking about math as the language and logic God used to create the world was too good a secret for me to keep. Now I want students to think about their involvement in the mathematical enterprise as a means to join God as co-creators of interesting things.

Mathematics allows humans to make the “invisible” part of the created world become “visible” in a way to tame it, describe it, use it, wonder about it, write about it, have control over aspects of it. These ways of making the “invisible world become more visible” suggest a knowable and dependable world that is worth knowing and caring for to enhance the human experience. Furthermore, from the perspective of a Christian in the stream of the Reformation tradition, one might say that humans’ ability to know the world in these ways is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” and living out our Imago Dei as creators, nay, co creators, as we do not Create from nothing as God did.

Humans endeavoring to learn math from our forerunners is necessary to continue the timeless knowledge of our past, but we must not think that simple memory of facts and procedures will guarantee that we will learn what is needed to be faithful messengers to the next generation or that we can rightly use the past understanding of mathematics to “better the affairs of mankind” or as Sir Francis Bacon so aptly put it, “relief of man’s estate.” Learning mathematics should be seen as a work in progress as a training and maturing and not as mechanical or a behavioral modification that tests learning by simple reciting of known and recognized nomenclature, although memorizing of agreed upon facts might be the minimum we ask of students, we need to stress that knowing the world of math is not the same as duplicating what a teacher shows.

The important facet of thinking about mathematics as a training and maturing is that each student’s background of mathematics, abilities, ways of thinking and even difficulties with learning ALL influence how teachers decide to design class lessons and assessments. Routine and simple problems are set in front of students as well as non routine and challenging ones. Whether in a public, private, parochial or protestant christian school the teaching and learning of mathematics may look similar because knowledge of math is similar to knowing God’s world in general terms. This is often referred to as general revelation. All humans have access to this form of knowing about the world.

The depth of knowing about the world is not the same for each person, partly because of interest in knowing, time committed to learning and personal abilities differ. Here is where notions of giftedness bumps up against various ways we as humans interact with the various aspects of enjoying the world. Some people are more athletic than others, for example, and some will be better surfers than others. This reality should not affect the the idea that humans were meant in the Imago Dei and can interact and know the world in small, large, and enjoyable ways. Just because I will never be an ukulele player invited to in Carnegie Hall does not mean that I should not work to improve my skills to bring enjoyment to me and others in my spheres of influence. In a similar way, learning subjects beyond personal giftedness or interest should be encouraged because learning broadly betters each person’s ability to interact in the natural world by enjoying it and the more people know the more they have ability to love more broadly.

Love should be the goal for education.

Mathematics for Human Flourishing

Why does the practice of mathematics often fall short of our ideals and hopes? How can the deeply human themes that drive us to do mathematics be channeled to build a more beautiful and just world in which all can truly flourish? – Dr. Francis Su

At the 2017 Joint Mathematics Meetings Dr. Francis Su, the outgoing president of the MAA, gave the retiring MAA presidential address titled “Mathematics for Human Flourishing.”

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Francis Su. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Elsewhere I have mentioned a previous talk by Francis Su on the “Lesson of Grace in Teaching.” In this most recent address, Dr. Su gives another amazing lecture on the nature and purpose of mathematics. Dr. Su is a great example of a Christian striving to better his discipline and to honor God by serving as an advocate in the public square.

Dr. Su begins by quoting the philosopher Simone Weil, “Every being cries out silently to be read differently.” What follows is an insightful commentary on the desires we all have as human beings and where those desires intersect with the discipline of mathematics. He ends by returning to reference Simone Weil.

She had found a path through struggle to virtue.
She understood that mathematics is for human flourishing.
The mathematical experience cannot be separated from love!
The love between friends who play with a mathematical problem.
The love between teacher and student working to help each other flourish.

The love of a community like the Mathematical Association of America working with each other towards a common goal: through the knowledge and virtues wrought by mathematics, to help everyone flourish.

Here is the full text of the talk: “Mathematics for Human Flourishing.”

Here is a great summary of the talk and a link to the MAA Facebook page where a video of the talk can be found. 

 

APAC 2016: Statistics, Significance, and Service

I’ve started a new site for service-learning resources in mathematics: SLmath.com.

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This week I am leading a workshop at the 2016 AP Annual Conference on “Statistics, Significance, and Service” in Anaheim, CA. The talk is on integrating service-learning projects into AP Statistics curriculum, specifically with the goal of impacting students on an affective level. In addition to the resources that you will find below, feel free to check out some of the prior posts on service learning:

ABSTRACT:

This session will equip participants to design, implement, and evaluate service-learning based statistics projects in which students partner with non-profit organizations in their local community. These projects synthesize the major concepts of experimental design, data analysis, and statistical inference in the real-world context of community service, ultimately cultivating in students a deeper appreciation for the discipline of statistics. In this session participants will evaluate successful examples of such projects, critically analyze the benefits of the innovative assessment methods involved, and engage in discussion assessing the feasibility and logistics of implementing service projects in their own curriculum.

(This session will expand on the session “Serving the Community through Statistics” from the 2015 AP Annual Conference by including results of my completed dissertation research on cultivating a productive disposition in statistics students through service learning)

PRESENTATION:

You can click the image below to find the PowerPoint that accompanied my presentation.

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10 THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE IMPLEMENTING A SERVICE-LEARNING PROJECT:

The following are the foundational questions that you as an instructor should consider and reflect upon prior to implementing a service-learning project. This list is not meant to be chronological though some aspects will naturally precede others. Start by considering the course learning objectives and your method of assessing those objectives and then go from there.

1.What are the major learning objectives/big ideas/enduring understandings for your course?

The purpose of the AP course in statistics is to introduce students to the major concepts and tools for collecting, analyzing and drawing conclusions from data. Students are exposed to four broad conceptual themes:

  • Exploring Data: Describing patterns and departures from patterns
  • Sampling and Experimentation: Planning and conducting a study
  • Anticipating Patterns: Exploring random phenomena using probability and simulation
  • Statistical Inference: Estimating population parameters and testing hypotheses

2. What are real-world situations where students can apply the concepts studied in your course?

  • Identifying a non-profit service agency which requires survey research (program evaluation, client needs assessment, etc.)
  • Students develop a survey instrument, conduct survey, compile and code data, analyze data, present results

3. List some potential community partners along with some basic descriptors that may impact how your students work with each partner (ex: What is the size of the organization? What issues does the organization address? Is the organization non-profit, governmental, religiously affiliated? Etc.) In lieu of a partner organization you can also consider a general community need for students to address. List some general descriptors of the project involved in addressing this community need.

4. Look for potential matches between organizations on your list from question 3 and your responses to questions 1 and 2. If there are multiple potential matches then consider the pros/cons of each and list them. Be sure to recognize how your matching affects the organization of the project (large scale as a class v. small scale as groups), which in turn may affect your response to question 5 below.

5. Once you have begun narrowing potential community partners that offer opportunities for students to interact with course content, consider how will you assess students? What will be the final product? What expectations will you have for students throughout the project and how will you communicate that to the students?

6. How will students be organized to meet the objectives that they will be assessed on? Will students work as individuals, teams, as a whole class?

7. How will students be equipped to complete the project successfully? What will they have gained from the course up to the point of assigning the project that will aid them? What additional tools/skills/knowledge will students need as the project proceeds?

8. What will be the timeframe for the project? How will students be held accountable to the timeframe? At what points will students receive feedback on their progress?

9. Why should students care about the project? What will you do as an instructor to get student buy-in on the project?

10. How will students reflect throughout the project? What opportunities will you provide for students to pause and consider the work they have done?

HANDOUTS:

From my 2015-16 AP Statistics Project (Organized as an entire class project over the full year):

From my 2014-15 AP Statistics Project (Organized as small group projects in the spring semester):

*NOTE: some documents above were also used in this project, either in the form in which they are posted above or in a slightly modified version

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Hadlock, C.R. (2005). Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

            Chapter 3: Service-Learning in Statistics

Reed, G. (2005). “Perspectives on statistics projects in a service-learning framework.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

Root, R., Thorme, T., & Gray, C. (2005). “Making meaning, applying statistics.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

Sungur, E.A., Anderson, J.E., & Winchester, B.S. (2005). “Integration of service-learning into statistics education.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

Hydorn, D.L. (2005). “Community service projects in a first statistics course.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

Massey, M. (2005). “Service-learning projects in data interpretation.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

Chapter 6: Getting Down to Work

Webster, J. & Vinsonhaler, C. (2005). “Getting down to work – a ‘how-to’ guide for designing and teaching a service-learning course.” In C.R. Hadlock (Ed.), Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America.

“Service-Learning and Mathematics” webpage:

Bailey, B. & Sinn, R. (2011). “Real Data & Service Learning Projects in Statistics.” Service-learning in collegiate mathematics, MAA contributed paper session, 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings, New Orleans, LA.

Hydorn, D. (2011). “Community Service-Learning in Mathematics: Models for Course Design.” Service-learning in collegiate mathematics, MAA contributed paper session, 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings, New Orleans, LA.

PRIMUS, Vol. 23 (6)

Hadlock, C.R. (2013). “Service-learning in the mathematical sciences.” PRIMUS, Vol. 23 (6), pp. 500-506.

Other

Lynn Adsit’s blog on implementing a service-learning project in AP Stats

Harry, A. & Troisi, J. (2014). “Service-Oriented Statistics.” 

Hampton, M.C. (1995). Syllabus for Intro to Statistics. University of Utah. 

Duke, J.I. (1999). “Service-Learning: taking mathematics into the real world.” The Mathematics Teacher, 92 (9), pp. 794-796, 799.

Leong, J. (2006). High school students’ attitudes and beliefs regarding statistics in a service-learning-based statistics course. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Georgia State University.

For many of the service-learning projects that my students have completed I am indebted to the willing partnership of Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Here is some introductory information on this great ministry:

Community First! Village Goes Beyond Housing for Austin Homeless, from the Austinot