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Potomac News

Teaching Students to Think, Not Compute

Recently, I had the opportunity to remove my administrator (and former reading specialist) hat to awaken my inner mathematician. I attended a three-day math conference in Worcester, Mass., where I had the privilege of working with two brilliant mathematicians and educators, one from the United States and one from Singapore.

Though I had always considered myself to be a strong mathematician, I was nervous when we were presented with problems ranging from division of mixed fractions to calculating the area of a polygon. It seems that some of those formulas and algorithms had escaped from my working memory. But I discovered that there are multiple ways to attack these problems, and struggling with them without the benefit of a rule or formula empowered me to make new discoveries about mathematics on my own. My instructor did not rob me of this opportunity to unearth a new strategy by providing step-by-step directions. I have always believed that the role of mathematics education is to teach students to think, not simply compute. My experience at this workshop solidified this belief for me.