Finding Faith in School

Here is another great article that I highly recommend. It is from the Christian Courier and is authored by David Smith of Calvin College and the Kuyers Institute (I’ve linked to the Kuyers Institute’s outstanding math resources in the past).

Personally, I am in the midst of reading Teaching and Christian Imagination by Smith (which I also highly recommend) and I always find his questions great points for reflection – on how I view teaching, on how I view my discipline, on how I view my students.

Here is a (long) quote from the article on how math might be used to seek justice.

School resources have not looked the same across the centuries and across cultures, but as far as your imagination is concerned, all mathematics classrooms are pretty similar, and they are like the ones you have experienced. They are just part of how the world works.

So what happens when someone decides the emperor does not have to keep wearing those particular clothes? Why would anyone start a mathematics textbook chapter in the Indian Ocean? Well, what if the chapter went on to explore the complex mathematics involved in describing the shape and acceleration of a wave? And what if it then pointed out that if we can use mathematics to do this, we can build early warning systems for tsunamis? What if it prompted some reflection along the way about what it might mean if people in poorer countries are more likely to die en masse when tsunamis happen? Is it just a natural disaster or might some human responsibility be involved? And suppose it then explored how mathematics is also involved in the aftermath. You need to drop food and water to people from helicopters – how would you figure out the best height from which to drop the crates so that you neither waste time and fuel descending too low (helping fewer people) nor damage the contents of the crates (helping fewer people)? The chapter from which I drew the example does in fact go on to explore these kinds of questions. It was designed by a group of Christian mathematics teachers and professors who wanted to explore how learning mathematics might be connected to matters such as seeking justice, enacting compassion and serving one’s neighbour.

Might students learn mathematics from such a chapter? Surely they could, if the problems are designed well. What else might they learn? How might time spent in this particular class help shape the way they imagine the world, their role in it, their future actions and responsibilities, or the reasons for being in school at all?

Smith’s point is that the way in which we present the material as teachers shapes the imagination of our students – how they see and interact with the world. Smith continues:

My point here is not to advocate for a blanket approach to mathematics, or even to claim that this is the best mathematics book chapter ever. My aim is simply to ask us to think about how the way we picture the world, our deep-down beliefs about how things work, might influence what happens in classrooms, whether or not religion is getting mentioned.

What happens to the shaping of our imagination as we pass through school if most of the examples in our mathematics textbooks are about shopping and sports? Or if there is never a mention of what is done with mathematics in the world? Or if mathematics is only related to science and technology? Or if it is, at least occasionally, shown to be possible that the knowledge and skills offered by mathematics might intersect in various ways with the effort to love God and neighbour?

Smith offers a very vivid portrayal of how the work we do as teachers can impact students at a level beyond their cognitive understanding of the material. We can use mathematics in service-learning, or in examining issues of sustainability or social justice. Not that every lesson will always address these issues, but if we are going to teach math Christianly then we should always be considering ways in which we might use mathematics to teach our students to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

Cultivating Mathematical Affections: The Influence of Christian Faith on Mathematics Pedagogy

Here is some information on my talk at the 20th ACMS Conference (2015) at Redeemer University College. More information can be found in my article of the same title in the June 2015 issue of Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith:

Abstract:

The goal of this paper is to make the case that Christian faith has an opportunity to impact the discussion on best practices in mathematics not primarily through the cognitive discussion on objectives and standards, but through the affective discussion on the formation of values, the cultivation of mathematical affections – not merely knowing, but also loving, and practicing the truth, beauty, and goodness inherent in mathematics.

First I will outline the work being done on affect in mathematics education, examining what values are actually endorsed by the community of mathematics educators. After summarizing this work on affect it will be clear that, even in the words of leading researchers, the field is lacking any cohesive, formal approach to analyzing and assessing the affective domain of learning. In part two of this paper I will argue the thesis that Christian faith offers solutions to the frustrations and shortcomings admitted by researchers on affect in mathematics education. Christian faith offers insight into how mathematical affections might actually be shaped. Here I will draw heavily on the work of philosopher James K.A. Smith and make explicit connection between his work and the mathematics classroom. Finally, I will conclude with a call to action discussing how we as Christian educators might begin to have fruitful contributions to and dialogue with the current research being done in mathematics education.

PowerPoint:

Outline:

PDF of talking points outline

References:

Goldin, G.A. (2002). Affect, meta-affect, and mathematical belief structures. In G.C. Leder, E. Pehkonen, & G. Törner (Eds.),  Beliefs: a hidden variable in mathematics education? Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 59-72.

Hadlock, C. R. (2005). Mathematics in service to the community: Concepts and models for service-learning in the mathematical sciences (No. 66). Mathematical Association of America.

Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S., & Masia, B.B. (1964). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook II. Affective Domain. New York: Longman.

McLeod, D.B. (1992). Research on affect in mathematics education: A reconceptualization. In D. A. Grouws (Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 575-596). New York: Macmillan.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1991). Standards for teaching mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1995). Mathematics Assessment Standards. Reston, VA: NCTM.

National Research Council (2001). Adding it up: Helping children learn mathematics. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press.

Smith, J.K.A. (2009). Desiring the kingdom: Worship, worldview, and cultural formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Veatch, M. (2001). Mathematics and values. In R. Howell & J. Bradley (Eds.), Mathematics in a Postmodern Age: A Christian Perspective. GrandRapids: Eerdmans, pp.223-249.

Zan, R., Brown, L., Evans, J., & Hannula, M.S. (2006). Affect in mathematics education: An introduction. Educational Studies in Mathematics (Affect in Mathematics Education: Exploring Theoretical Frameworks: A PME Special Issue), 63:2, 113-121.

The Matter of Mathematics

The journal Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (PSCF) is planning to devote a theme issue to the interplay between mathematics and the Christian faith. Russ Howell has published the lead essay for it, which is designed to encourage response essays focusing on a wide-range of issues.

From James C. Peterson, Editor of PSCF:

Russell Howell has co-authored the textbook Complex Analysis for Mathematics and Engineering which is in its sixth edition, and is the co-editor of the HarperOne book Mathematics Through the Eyes of Faith. His essay describes the latest challenges for mathematics and Christian faith. The essay is intended as an invitation. Readers are encouraged to take up one of the insights or challenges, or maybe a related one that was not mentioned, and draft an article (typically about 5,000-8,000 words) that contributes to the conversation. These can be sent to Dr. Howell. He will send the best essays on to peer review and then we will select from those for publication in a mathematics theme issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The lead editorial in the December 2013 issue of PSCF outlines what the journal looks for in article contributions. For full consideration for inclusion in the theme issue, manuscripts should be received electronically before 30 June 2014.

For those readers who prefer to take a literary approach in sharing their ideas, please submit essays (up to 3,000 words), poetry, fiction, or humour inspired by the invitational essay to Emily Ruppel for possible publication in God and Nature magazine.

The essay itself is available by clicking here.

The description of the project is available by clicking here.

The page of the latter link lists June 30 as a deadline for submitting responses to Russ (howell@westmont.edu), but he assures me there is flexibility in that deadline.