Life Standards
Posted On:
Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In Mississippi mathematics classrooms there are 8 practical standards that teachers strive to teach their students:

* Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. 

* Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

* Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

* Model with mathematics.

* Use appropriate tools strategically.

* Attend to precision.

* Look for and make use of structure.

* Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Each of these plays a huge role in mathematics education. Interestingly, there is something to be gained from each of these standards that students can utilize for participating and being successful in the real world! 

Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them – In math, students should try hard to understand a problem and not give up if they are confused. I have encountered many students at this school who have disqualified themselves from being effective life problem solvers. When inter-personal conflict arises, the very same perseverance is required of students for there to be a genuine resolution. Relationships are more important than equations, and the issues that are interwoven ought to be carefully analyzed and bravely resolved. 

Reason abstractly and quantitatively – This skill involves the ability to decontextualize and re-contextualize mathematically. De-contextualization happens when the student translates the content of a word problem into numbers and symbols that can be manipulated to find a solution. Re-contextualization means taking that numerical solution and understanding how it relates back to the original context of the word problem. This mathematical ability is transferable to the real-life ability of decision making. Students are daily in situations with consequences that affect more than themselves. Correspondingly, each student is capable of making rational decisions by de-contextualizing and looking at the bigger picture of the effects that a bad decision can have on themselves and on others.

Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others – A mathematical argument is a declaration of a strategy that works. Strategies that work are based upon objective facts and are proven through multiple examples and counter-examples. Students that hold firm to beliefs based upon subjective opinions are led to live a life as unstable and unproductive as the arguments they propose. The reason these flimsy arguments are so wildly admired among adolescents is probably because they are accompanied by a good feeling: one of which satisfies for the moment, but kills in the end. 

Modeling a situation – When a complicated math problem is given, a proficient math student is able to identify important information, and make approximations and assumptions that he/she knows may need revision later. The student then organizes the information into a diagram or chart to analyze relationships. In life there are things that matter and things that do not. It is important that young

people learn how to identify important things in complicated situations before making a decision. Students growing in this area might respond in these ways: setting aside time to sit and think/reflect on the situation, journal, or consult an authority for insight and direction.

Use appropriate tools strategically – Math students should know the insight to be gained from, and the limitations of tools that facilitate the solving of mathematical problems. They should learn to use these tools (paper, calculator, ruler, spreadsheet, etc.) how and when they should be used. Similarly, at our school we teach our students to use all of their resources: namely, teachers and other positively influential adults in their lives. Students should view these individuals as useful resources that will enable and encourage them to reach higher and be successful. We encourage our students to erase the imaginary line that separates themselves from these adults, and to trust (rather than antagonize) them when they offer words of direction or redirection.

Attend to precision – The most common mistake I have seen in students’ math work concerns the sign of integers. One little positive or negative sign can be missed, and the entire problem will be incorrect. It is important to know that neglecting some details can have a great effect on life’s outcomes. However, when students are “minding their p’s and q’s” they are very observant and productively responsive in their environments. To give an example, my dad gave me the following advice prior to my wedding day. He encouraged me to get used to making safe decisions in common situations, so I’ll be able to take advantage of exciting opportunities in the future. He told me to step off of curbs instead of jumping, but when someone invites me to go skydiving that I need to get my butt on that plane. Exercising behavioral precision now has great potential to open up many doors of opportunity in the future.

Look for and make use of structure – Math is a structured language that gives its victims a panic attack around the clock. Numbers, symbols, parentheses and letters being strung together can easily cause anxiety among students. This is why it is important for math students to understand the structure of the language of mathematics. There is an observable pattern and structure that the world follows as well. Students should recognize this structure and use what they have been given to overcome the seemingly impossible situations of life.

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning – There are many observable patterns in math that, when observed, can be used in numerous problems to reach a solution. These patterns should be recognized and stored into long term memory: from multiplication facts to factoring polynomials. It is said that insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” I do not agree that this qualifies as a definition, but it is definitely an example of unproductive and bizarre behavior that is demonstrated by many individuals in the world today. King Solomon describes this behavior similarly: “as a dog returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly,” (Proverbs 26:11). This king of Israel knew (if anyone did) the depths of this madness and folly. His conclusion is that the source of true wisdom is an extrinsic one. We should not presume that we are capable of mustering up our own wisdom; it is something observed and obeyed.

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