What Bruce Lee might say about the Math Learner

Yes, I am talking about Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do founder and star of martial arts classics such as Enter the Dragon.

Bruce Lee 'Game of Death' action figure
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user: comigirl)

But what does Bruce Lee have to do with math learning?

To me, it can be summed up in the following line taken from the opening scene of Enter the Dragon.

[Learning] is like a finger pointing away to the moon…don’t look at the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory…

This critique of a martial arts student, made by Bruce Lee in the 1970s, is in my opinion a relevant critique of the math learner in classrooms, today. Students engaged in watching a finger pointing at a textbook or algorithm, and not necessarily looking past it to wonder and make sense of the math.  In this case, students are typically engaged in recalling predetermined steps to responding to math questions, instead of:

  • Problem solving;
  • reasoning and proving;
  • reflecting;
  • selecting tools and computational strategies;
  • connecting; and
  • representing or communicating their thinking.

(Ontario Mathematics Curriculum – Grades 1-8, 2005, pg. 11)

math context or content

So, the challenge becomes, can we open our math teaching styles to include opportunity for students to explore math in context, and not just the isolated parts we point to?

Can we push student thinking, without rescuing the student from thinking?

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