Wednesday, January 6, 2016

5: Mathematics and Education

The sketch from the previous posts reveals that through the lens of faith mathematics is seen as far more than just manipulating symbols. Rather, it is an image-bearer stepping into her role of being a co-creator with God. Thus, teaching mathematics becomes about more than just helping students learn how to perform algorithms or manipulate symbols. I’ve come to think of blackboards as windows into eternity, hoping my lectures will awaken students to the sense of endless discovery and co-creation they were created for. Teaching mathematics is about helping students recognize their true identities, incredible worth, and privileged place they occupy within the universe. Mathematics testifies to the reality that we’re not here haphazardly, but were designed to discover and extend creation while appreciating its beauty. And mathematics teaches us to long for the eternity where we’ll be able to continue our education in the presence of the One who formed us in love. “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one.”

While living in anticipation of eternity, mathematics also teaches valuable lessons of character. Over the last few years, I’ve been intentional to introduce my student to Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset. Dweck uses this term to refer to the different ways students view their intelligence and hence respond to failure. On the one hand, students who believe intelligence is fixed--you’re either born as a “math person” or not--tend to interpret their poor performance on a math activity as evidence that they are not capable of mastering the material. On the other hand, students who are taught to understand that intelligence is something that one can develop--like a muscle--tend to interpret poor performance as indicators of what further steps they need to take in order to master the material. Intentionally helping students develop a growth mindset develop traits of character that transfer to every sphere of their lives and, through the lens of faith, are understood as having an eternal value.
Finally, in anticipating the restoration of God’s good creation, one is reminded that there is something seriously broken in this present world. Mathematics, like art, can give individuals glimpses of the world to come, but it seems that it must go a step further and actually address the suffering of this present world. Enter the great applicability of mathematics. I’ve been developing a growing burden to inspire and challenge my students to employ their training to address the great want of world in whatever life course they pursue, be it as educators, engineers, medical professionals, lawyers, or even mathematicians.

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