I gave the opening talk at NCTM’s High School Institute yesterday in Orlando, FL. At the end, a man introduced himself as a teacher and former textbook editor and set me straight on a couple of things:
- Publishers decompose rich mathematical tasks into mealy, mushy little bits because teachers want them to. Teachers review those books and point to problems and say, “That’s too hard. That one too. My students can’t do that one. Break that down for me.”
- Same with the overly helpful pointers to previously worked examples. “You want me to assign this for homework? Only if you make a note in the margin pointing to the example problem it’s exactly like.”
- Same with the cornball visuals. “Too much text. Can you throw in some color?”
Publishers respond to market pressure from teachers who are responding to a similar kind of market pressure from students. I have arrived at very different responses to the same pressure. (ie. Does anyone really think students are engaged by the cartoony nonsense they find in the margins of their books?) Making myself the best advocate I can be for those responses is, of course, the challenge.
I am finding more and more math around me. It pokes in my head when I least expect it.
I heard this in Grand Forks, also. The #anyqs exercise seems to be genuinely transformative for at least some teachers. Whether that transformation results in any kind of significant change in student achievement or in the disposition of their classes is an open question.