Building Understanding in Mathematics

Mexico House BuildingThis week I’m writing from Mexico. Every year, my church travels down to build houses for families in need. We work with local churches to supply building materials and manpower to build simple homes. The work could not occur without the help of local pastors, who help by identifying the families and local contacts we will be assisting. While engaged in this service, we often come to bond with those we help and work with in many ways. We also learn to be humble in our service. Even though we have some financial resources, we lack many other important pieces we need to complete the work. I think it is the same in any act of service. We serve better when we realize our limitations and are open to the wisdom of others to complement what we bring.

At the AIMS Center, I have been able to work with and learn from researchers who have knowledge of how students come to know math that I had not previously known. I have come to work with colleagues from the Center and in the field to make that research come alive and look for ways to use it to influence how I work with teachers to one day serve their classrooms.

An idea that has come from this work at the Center is to be willing to adjust what I believe is true about what a child knows and how to serve that child. For example, bridging the gap between manipulatives and the numeral. I have seen how what I thought would help is sometimes not sufficient. Another perspective that helped me was the idea that a student needs to depend on imagining the counters, how that looks in a small group setting, and how to engage students in tasks that might promote that thinking have also been enriched with research and collaboration.

Being open and willing to learn has helped to complete the homes we have built in Mexico and also informs the way we help students build new mathematical understanding.

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