Jennifer Wathall is an experienced mathematics teacher, IB Workshop Leader, and Concept-based Curriculum Design Consultant. She is providing professional development this week for our faculty this week. I attended several sessions and read the last chapter of her latest book, Concept-based Mathematics: Teaching for Deep Understanding in Secondary Classrooms.
My big takeaway from the workshops reinforcing the idea that mathematics education needs a revolution. In the coming decades, AI and technological advances will do away with the need for calculation. Humans cannot out-calculate computers The major shift in mathematics education is the idea that it is the teacher’s job to facilitate students to gain a deep understanding of concepts instead of the traditional didactic approach of memorization of a formula, demonstrating a few examples, and then assigning them dozens of practice problems.
This creates a difference of opinion between anxious parents taught in the traditional approach to the IB and Wathall’s concept-based approach. TIS has a large portion of families from successful, traditional mathematics teaching culture, including Korea and the ex-Soviet Union.
In the last chapter of her book, “What do Ideal Concept-based Mathematics Classrooms Look Like”, Wathall lays out the vision and fundamentals. I am posting my notes at the bottom of this post. The idea of supporting productive struggle and instilling in math students a growth mindset underpins the concept-based classroom. I also like how she ties what employers are looking for; critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and adapting to change to the skills math students should be learning.
I always thought the East Asian methods of teaching mathematics, hours of drills, were the best way to teach mathematics. PISA scores and competitions demonstrated the highest achievement from mathematics students from those school systems. However, one can judge mathematics education by the innovation found in the respective societies. The more “Western” approach of concept-based teaching is producing more innovation. Examples are Apple, Google, Tesla, NASA, etc.
It was a valuable week for our elementary and secondary school mathematics teachers! We will definitely be inviting Jennifer back.