Reform mathematics gets a makeover

Filling the pail

In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in the U.S. published the first version of its Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. It was a pivotal moment for mathematics education both in America and across the world. Despite the relatively poor performance of the U.S. in comparison to other countries and states in international tests such as PISA or TIMSS, people look to America for sexy new ideas.

The standards came to represent a movement known as ‘reform’ mathematics. The antecedents of this movement can be traced to the constructivism of Piaget and Vygotsky from earlier in the 20th century and further back to progressive education in general. John Dewey, for instance, promoted the idea of learning through experience and Paolo Freire opposed the ‘banking model’ of education where teachers transmit facts and procedures to their students. Reform mathematics is generally supportive of experiential learning and skeptical of…

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