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Sure! Here's an academic abstract that summarizes Math Renaissance in more detail:
This book is built upon the assumption that math is ruined for some people. It is often taught in ways that cause students to hate math. The book contains alternating chapters by a highschool student and a mathcircle leader. The student gives an overview of the range of current mathematics pedagogy, reports the results of her qualitative research study, connects these results to existing empirical studies, posits conjectures on why so many students hate math, and makes recommendations to students, parents, and teachers on practices by which they can contribute to a shift in the math education system that might bring more inquiry, discovery, conceptual understanding, and lasting joy to mathematics. The book gives voice to people of all backgrounds and witnesses the powerful releases of emotion that accompany talking about math. The mathcircle leader presents ethnographic research on the Talking Stick Math Circle to explicate the pedagogy of inquirybased mathematics, a pedagogy based upon questioning everything to access its underlying structure. These case studies explore what mathematics is, how best to facilitate mathematical thinking, and how readers can lead their own math circles in this style. The chapters synthesize into a grassroots effort to make people aware of problems in math education to give new approaches that can be implemented in the home or classroom without a bureaucratic shift. The authors acknowledge that there are multiple valid viewpoints, that the issues are complex, and that this shift should be done gently. Readers are invited to take from this book anything that might help them, whether it’s validation of their own feelings and struggles, techniques for making the best of a hard situation, or methods to investigate specific mathematical concepts. The book envisions a world of sustained mathematical change and solutions that allows everyone to have a positive experience in math class.
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Rachel's chapters deal with these topics, which are related to all types of education, not just math: No Child Left Behind, school funding, grades, standardized testing, the challenges of being a teacher, stereotypes surrounding who can be good at STEM fields, Finland's education system, helplessnessorientation versus masteryorientation (the power of mindset), how to deal with boredom in math class (a survey), the "Math Wars," inquirybased education, learning through video games, learning through physically moving your body, the importance of recess and the problems with a sedentary lifestyle (that mainstream education practices), the importance of views of nature from classrooms, human rights in school (such as eating, drinking, moving your body, and using the bathroom), and interviews with a high school, middle school, and elementary school math teachers.
Rodi's chapters deal with learning math through the humanities, such as learning logic through drama, using cultural narratives to approach a math problem, and using art to approach Euclidean geometry."
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We have seen that teaching experiments, including our own, show that young children CAN learn topics like combinatorics, and CAN do problemsolving, when the activities are framed as play. We are excited by recent research in neuroscience that has provided physical evidence that support this way of teaching and learning. People are finding that changing your mindset toward math dramatically changes your math experience in the classroom. Our math circles are definitely all about changing your mindset.
(Rodi) I’ve witnessed firsthand that learning can be enhanced when people are motivated to learn. My gradschool cognition professor used is this question to demonstrate: “How motivated are you to learn about gardening when you want to plant a garden versus when you’re not interested in doing so but someone says you have to?” In our math circles, children are motivated to learn because the questions are accessible mysteries. I have seen the intrinsic motivation generated in math circle sessions translate to more interest and motivation to learn the “basics.” Rachel taught a math circle this past fall on Rational Tangles (an activity designed by mathematician John Horton Conway) in which a bunch of kids were begging to learn how to manipulate fractions because they wanted to untangle a knot. When I taught The Unicorn Problem the first time, even though the kids were quite young, the pull of the narrative was strong enough to give them the extended attention span to solve the problem. We spent an hour a week for 6 weeks until we solved it because the problem felt alive to the students.
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Rodi’s chapters are based upon six years of ethnographic research of the Talking Stick Math Circle. Rachel provides an overview of research studies on matheducation issues in several of her chapters, as well as her own observational research, personal experiences, anecdotes, informal surveys, and interviews.
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While the pedagogical approach shown in the book is not based upon the Common Core’s Standards for Mathematical Practices, we find that students do practice the following skills in our math circles: make sense of problems and persevere in solving them; reason abstractly and quantitatively; construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others; model with mathematics; use appropriate tools strategically; attend to precision; and look for and make use of structure. Rodi’s chapters go into great detail about that mathematical reasoning that her students engage in.
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