Friday, March 14, 2014

On Constructivism and Motivation

As a constructivist, I'm promoted to wonder why math teachers obsess about children's motivation. Mostly, I experience this obsession in a negative manner -- "my kids aren't motivated." Or more productively, in a way that turns the responsibility inward, "I'm trying to figure out how to motivate these kids."

I can't help but interpret that thinking about trying to convince the learner to swallow some nasty medicine. But arguing that School Math is a nasty medicine we're trying to force down kids throat is a different post.

For me, ideas about motivation, especially those of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, live in the world of behaviorist learning theory. A learning theory that western culture knows so well we have a hard time knowing/thinking outside of of it (like fish & water).

The present constructivist theory of knowing and learning, superseding behaviorism, really messes up the idea of motivation. At first, it makes a different definition for learning. It is not a definition that relies on a "what" is to be learned (what overwhelms us as math teachers), but instead focuses on hypothetical models for knowing and defines learning changes to those knowing structures modeled. So "what" is to be learned is recognized as an idea of the teacher, and something they want to "see" replicated in the learner. Now motivation has become more of a problem OF the teacher, not a lacking in the learner.

What I mean by a problem OF the teacher--as opposed to FOR the teacher. Lack of motivation of students to learn math, to do homework, etc. is the "standard" way of thinking about motivation as a  problem of the teacher. The teacher wishes to see behaviors replicated in their students. So totally behaviorist, I can't help but wish to suggest a whistle and a bucket of fish strapped to the teachers hip for rewards to the trained dolphins, er, students.

The idea of motivation as a problem OF the teacher is that when a person's experiential reality is not sitting properly, as it should, that person wishes for it to change -- so as the person's knowing of her experiential reality doesn't have to be shifted to account for something that just doesn't fit. The nature of a knowing, autopoetic organism (i.e. a human) is to maintain its own inner nature, its equilibrium. Herein lies its "motivation." This is the case of a teacher, and of the student. Each's motivation is at odds in their structural coupling. The motivation question shifts to first wonder why would the teacher wish to see her own way of knowing replicated in the knower external to herself, a knower she attributes as functioning in ways alike to herself but is a separate entity. It is the case that she wishes to coerce the other to behave a certain way. The motivation to "teach" is hers, and hence her problem. The question that should be asked is why ought this be the motivation OF a teacher?

A more ethical interaction between two cognizing subjects, even when one may have a socially defined role as teacher and student. The teacher ought not seek a change in behavior in the student, rather strive to invoke an inquiry process that she suspects may lead to a way of knowing that creates for the learner a greater viability in the learner's known world.

For me, I consider the individual knower / learner to be fundamentally goal-directed, i.e. motivated. This is a core principle to their remaining viable in the way of experiencing their world. Any nudge I can give this learner toward experiencing some joy by taking up some logic-mathematical disturbance I can create, might be the extent to which I can concern myself with motivation of a learner. As you can see, I am beginning to find myself thinking in circles about this idea -- when it comes to imaging the work of "teaching."

For now, an unresolved issue...


P.S. Lets not lose sight that Cognitive Psychology remains mired in the tar pool remnants of Behaviorist ideas, especially definitions for learning. The theory gives a reality to knowledge, and fails to problematize the observer stance.

Coda: It is likely I ought to have left this discussion of learning and motivation to von Glasersfled himself. One place he writes directly on motivation is here http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/135, in particular beginning on p. 7.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Just some thoughts regarding my research on Mathematical Identity

I very often attend very research-y sessions on Mathematical Identity of students or some student group. Often, the student group in consideration is marginalized, in one way or another. I have a very difficult time during these presentations. I have named several reasons why it may be so (next bullets), but ultimately think it is simply my impatience/intolerance for people to see the world in my way. I'm such an adolescent.

These frustrations emerge from, in my opinion:
  • researcher's lack of an explicit theoretical stance, and/or
  • an under-examined definition of identity, and/or
  • an under-examined definition of mathematics, and/or
  • an under-examined role of oneself as a researcher. 
The thoughts that follow were written shortly after NCTM Research Presession 2013, during which I found myself rather underwhelmed by several sessions regarding children's mathematical identity. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Planning PD for HS Math teachers -- Focus on Pedagogical Practices in PrBL

My teacher-leader colleagues in Delaware proposed focusing pedagogical conversations during summer professional learning activities for HS math teachers on 2 conclusions that emerged from Hiebert & Grouws (2007) book chapter in NCTM's Second Handbook of Research. We are reading H&G's chapter, as well as the NCTM Research Brief.

We plan an online conversation about the ideas in H&G's paper, especially the two principles of learning: (1) being explicit about the key ideas, and (2) supporting productive grappling are central to our thinking about the pedagogical work for teaching in a problem-based learning (PrBL) environment.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Mathematics is a Simulacra

I write that Mathematics is a Simulacra, what I consider to be a liberating recognition that maths is a human endeavor, it is created by people rather than discovered as an ontological reality.

Andreas Quale wrote a nice paper that allowed me a fun curiosity for the evening.

Maybe it is productive and/or interesting to view this discipline of Mathematics as a human-invented game, with a evolved set of rules that have created a wonderful space that is so at the limits of our minds that we cannot recognize it as such--a game, akin to chess, that is fixed, bounded, determined, one of many possible. Basically, this particular Mathematics is relative to its rules, rather than a real thing.

Some other species peers down upon us like rats in a maze. As rats, we see the walls constructed by our experiential knowing of our world/maze. We don't see our own constraints, as if from above--some omniscient perspective.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

what do I think of the CCSS?

I bumped into a longtime colleague and fellow survivor of the CA Math Wars at the Creating Balance conference a couple weeks ago. She sent me this article and asked my opinion of the CCSS. I sat and wrote back, allowing some anger to emerge. Maybe you'll notice...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Math & Jazz: Learn by Doing or by Training?

Healthcare professional's first pronouncement when beginning study in the field is to do no harm. Could we teach mathematics if we asked teaching students the same question?

more to follow...

[Returning 5/21/13] Well, I began with some thoughts about math & jazz. probably decided to mentally improvise on this riff, and not try to scribble down the notes.

But as I came across this initiating strong today, I am reminded of some thoughts on modeling teacher education on healthcare education. The argument was that healthcare (and other professions) thrive because of the standardization of known "good" <=> "scientific" techniques allows for a well-agreed upon healthcare education structure and methodology.

Can this be compared to what it means to teach math well. Maybe yes, if "teaching" is thought of in a transmission model, and the outcomes for teaching are a particular standard way of knowing and thinking of Mathematics to be held by children.

Aaaargh! No, please no. I leave for another improvisation. Maybe I'll listen to Public Enemy's Fight the Power as I drive home, sit down to read Priya Parmar's Knowledge Reigns Supreme: The Critical Pedagogy of Hip-Hop Artist KRS-ONE, or ...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Constructivist's View on Teaching Mathematics (for Social Justice)


This post is a long reply to Bryan Meyer's April 22, 2012 post at Doing Math

Bryan, you won't be surprised in what I say. I think you've made a fundamental error of seeking to compare two very different issues, a theory for knowing (constructivism) with a theory for teaching (discovery learning). If you address constructivism as a method for teaching, there is no core base for which to make decisions on how to act. What seems to exist in the literature are no more than others' grievous misunderstandings / bastardization of constructivism.

If you treat discovery learning as a theory for knowing/learning, I would say you are much more strongly aligned to a segment of learning theorists who may not fully embrace the "radical" component of constructivism, that we have no access to reality and thus could not "know" in a manner that had been previously taken for granted. These sorts of more modern theory for knowing, that seem to be taken for granted in this "discovery learning" idea, do embrace a similar principal--that the learning mind is an active one--and thus are often labeled constructivist in some way. However, these constructivisms are "trivial constructivism."