Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods
reviewed by Mark Causapin - August 27, 2018
Title: Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods
Author(s): Signe E. Kastberg, Andrew M. Tyminski, Alyson E. Lischka (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641130253, Pages: 374, Year: 2017
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Mathematics methods courses are central to the preparation of future teachers. Methods courses provide an opportunity for students to integrate their knowledge of mathematics content, the educational system, and curricula with their emerging understanding of the needs of their future students. It is here that future teachers can begin to form concrete, albeit preliminary, teaching routines and strategies. In 2015, a group of over 50 mathematics teacher educators met for the Scholarly Inquiry and Practices Conference on Mathematics Methods in Atlanta, Georgia to explore and discuss the ways in which theoretical perspectives influence teaching and research in methods courses. The contents of this book arose from the work of the conference participants as they examined the theoretical perspectives that influenced the goals they set and the activities they designed for their courses. It was acknowledged that while mathematics methods courses are of the utmost importance, they vary significantly across different institutions. It was evident that a motley collection of theoretical perspectives were being used by different instructors and professors. This book attempted to highlight these differences and celebrate this diversity of views.
The editors organized the book into seven sections: the first part includes chapters that aim to give a broad overview of the theoretical perspectives (sociopolitical, cognitive, and situative) that structured the discussions during the conference; the second includes examples of mathematics teacher educators experiences using theoretical perspectives in scholarly inquiry and practices; the third has chapters describing examples of learning goals and how practices in methods classes are developed to address these goals; the fourth deals with how activities are developed for methods courses using specific perspectives; the fifth includes chapters on how specific contexts influence prospective teachers learning goals; and the sixth is on activities that include self-evaluation of prospective teachers. Although the categories from Sections Two to Six seem arbitrary (i.e., a chapter from Section Four could be placed in Section Two), the organizational structure gives a sense of what the editors and writers want readers to focus on. The last section is the conclusion, which includes an appeal to make the sociopolitical perspective mainstream in mathematics education.
From the point of view of someone teaching and designing courses for prospective mathematics teachers, this book is invaluable as it provides plenty of ideas for activities, themes, and practices that can be integrated into a methods course. Each chapter is descriptive and insightful, written in such a way that the ideas can be easily applied in other institutions. For example, Chapter Twelve includes a lesson on integer subtraction in the context of temperature in which each step of the activity development, implementation, and improvement was reported, including the final activity framework and transcriptions of actual conversations between teachers and students. In this regard, this book is a treasure trove for anyone developing or trying to improve a methods course or a mathematics content course for teachers in their own institution.
In each chapter, what is perceptible is the authors strong desire to justify how they teach mathematics methods courses by grounding their practices in theoretical perspectives and providing evidence of effectiveness from their own classrooms. It seems the Scholarly Inquiry and Practices conference was very influential in encouraging these mathematics teacher educators to reflect on their work and to connect theoretical perspectives and educational research to their own classroom activities; one can actually follow their ruminations while reading the chapters. For example, in Chapter Seven, authors write, mathematics teacher educators grouped by theoretical perspective worked to develop goals and activities for mathematics teacher education. Our sociopolitical group resisted naming objectives and activities an emphasis on objectives suggested a cognitive underpinning that conflicted with our perspective (p. 99). In Chapter Nine, authors reveal, we realized that we were attracted to using rehearsals as an activity in our methods courses because we tended towards a situated perspective on learning (p. 134).
This attempt to ground practices in theory and research may be the books Achilles heel. As a reader, one quickly notices the scant exposition and justification of the theoretical perspectives selected, and the open celebration of relativism in teaching practice is striking. There is a sense that everyones educational ways and theoretical perspectives are valid and subject only to the contexts of instruction, without justification or debate, and regardless of how well the theory is developed. This was not fully discussed or justified. On page five, the authors write, The conference participants taught us that these perspectives (sociopolitical, cognitive, and situative) are not absolutes but are situated, interpreted, and operationalized in different ways by MTEs (mathematics teacher educators). They continue, AMTEs (Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators) vision does not require conformity (p. 5), noting that variation exists because MTEs work is psychological, social, temporal, and contextual (p. 5). The reader might then ask what this means for connecting theory and research to practice. Does it mean that theory changes when applied to professional work? How does this impact communication and cooperation within the mathematics education community? Will any perspective be valid and result in the same outcome of better educated students? Can instructors choose their favorite perspective and design courses around it, or must perspectives be weighed for their appropriateness, correctness, and effectiveness first? Should a course be designed first, and then justified by searching for a theory that fits? How do we know all of this?
Overall, this book is laudable because it encourages deep discussions on why we do things in methods courses. It carries the message that yes, we should continue to strengthen our profession, and that research will help to improve our practices. It also shows that we need more debate and discussion on how to deal with multiple theoretical perspectives, and on how our actual practices can be influenced by these frameworks.