Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Path of Least Resistance

I didn't make it in to my office yesterday. This no longer surprises me. At the beginning of the summer I was filled with such optimism, thinking that I was going to make great progress on my research. I imagined myself working for hours each day deeply immersed in jargon and subtle structures. Maybe even doing this in my office. Progress has been slow and piecemeal — not the sort of work that goes best when spending hours at a desk. Instead I've been thinking about my teaching and preparing for the fall.

I'd been surprised at the number of Education majors in my freshman-level courses. I thought that the Education major was structured somewhat like a prix fixe menu: designed by the chef so everything fits together perfectly (no substitutions). My department offers courses designed especially for pre-service elementary and middle school teachers, and I assumed that these courses assured us that our future teachers had appropriate math content knowledge. Not the case. Much like the proverbial Chinese menu, the Education major is structured in a "one from column A, two from column B" sort of way.

So now I know that the courses that I usually teach do count towards the Education major. While these are meaningful college-level math courses, they were not designed for pre-service elementary and middle school teachers. I find myself procrastinating my research while reading The Mathematical Education of Teachers, a joint project of the AMS and the MAA and published by the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences.

It's unreasonable for me to significantly change the content of my courses; ideas like place value do not fit naturally into the syllabus (and adding them would mean taking out something else). My current plan is two-pronged. I will adjust my teaching to serve the Education majors as well as possible. And I will try to make sure that my course is more difficult and time-consuming than the courses designed for Education majors.