posted by:

Jan Mokros
on May 19, 2003
at 11:07AM

subject:

Can you vote in math?

I found the issue of "voting" fascinating, because the underlying question is, "what's the nature of evidence in math?" If most of us agree, does that mean it's true? Even third graders knew that voting doesn't necessarily confirm that an answer is correct. But what evidence do we need to be convinced? I've seen teachers struggle with this too, particularly when they start teaching unfamiliar mathematical ideas. For example, I once observed a 4th grade teacher who had collected data from everyone in the class concerning how long each student could hold his/her breath. After the kids examined the data, she asked them, "What's typical for our class?" The students had many different ideasand the range of answers was huge (from 10 seconds to over a minute!) I could see the teacher was trying to figure out what to do now that there were so many answers on the table. In the end, she didn't address it and instead talked about all the great work students had done. But there *were* answers that were better than others. How do we help kids figure out why some answers are better than others, and how to do this without voting? To me, this seems like a critical and ongoing piece of mathematical work.

