UBC Graduate Research

Twisting, Stretching, and Bending: A Case for Flexibility in Today’s Model of Mathematics Education DeAbreu, Robert J.


Modern mathematics education literature shows a continual mention of, and often a response to, the “traditional” way of teaching the subject (Wood, 2001, 110). This method of teaching mathematics is aptly dubbed “mathematics from above” by El-Kafafi, who describes it as learning “through reception of information, absorption of facts and reproduction” (Siham El-Kafafi, 2011, 45). Hence, teachers are viewed “as experts in the field whose job is to transmit those facts to the students … through the rote-learning method” (Siham El-Kafafi, 2011, 45). This is often the method that people think of and refer to when criticism is given for mathematics education. Our more contemporary position on numeracy education, or as El-Kafafi calls “mathematics from below,” sees learners “using and understanding mathematics to make sense of the real world and acknowledging numeracy as a social activity,” which is a much more student-centered, progressivist, and constructivist approach (Henson, 2010, 4 and 109; Siham El-Kafafi, 2011, 46). While many members of the public would disagree, I would argue that our current model of mathematics education is one of “mathematics from below.” This view is justified by the large amount of research that has been done in the last thirty years in education in general (Henson, 2010, 130), and specifically in the last twenty to devise and execute many context-based mathematics curricula driven by higher order thinking that are currently in practice in many parts of North America (Meyer, Dekker, & Querelle, 2001, 522). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the ways our current model of mathematics education meets, and does not meet, the needs of our students.

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