Discussion: Keynote Part 2

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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 ideas--and 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.
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