Concept Based Mathematics – a book review

I don’t normally review books, but this one is worth a plug.

Concept Based Mathematics – Teaching for Deep Understanding in Secondary Classrooms – by Jennifer Wathall

I need to declare my interest here. Jennie is the Head of Maths at Island School in Hong Kong where I am principal.

So, having got that off my chest, what is this book about and what is it like? Well, it is an interesting and balance between theory and practice. Many educational books are very general and discuss goals, aims and philosophies in fairly abstract terms. Often Maths books, on the other hand, have lots of examples but very little of the theory behind them. Jennie’s book has roughly equal parts of both.

The theoretical background of all of this comes from Lynn Ericksen’s work on concept based learning. Lynn writes the forward and the whole project has been supported by Lynn and Lois Lanning. This is where the book starts with definitions of the terms addressing the question of what we mean by concept based learning in Mathematics. There are the usual diagrams of Erickson and Lanning but annotated by Maths examples. Then we get the first key idea which is that inquiry led learning supports a deeper understanding of the concepts. Once we have that then it all flows from there. Jennie maintains there are different levels of inquiry and gives mathematical examples of activities at different levels,

Chapters often have intriguing questions as their titles. What are generalisations in Mathematics? What does a concept based classroom look like? How do I captivate students? The eight strategies for engaging the hearts and mids of students are offered as an answer to the last question. Every time a suggestion is put forward, it is accompanied by real examples of activities to set students, and ways to deliver them.

It is a book that is mathematical in its structure and style as well as its content. Jennie writes in a logical way, the prose is straightforward and well put together. Altogether it is an excellent synopsis of some really good practice in teaching Maths, underpinned by solid theory and demonstrated by useful examples. A great book for any Maths teacher.


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