Math Education Concepts

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Concept-Based Learning and Math

Concept-based learning is not a new idea, but one that should get far more attention than what I’ve seen.  I recently found the following definition on “What Is IB?”

“Concept based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place, situation. Content just focuses on facts while concept focuses on making sense of those facts and the world around us. Content based teaching may not get beyond information transmission/superficial learning. Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning.”

When thinking about teaching and learning mathematics, concept-based learning makes the most sense.  Why? Situations change, contexts change, numerical values change, students change, etc.  If a concept is taught and learned, then changing the context or situation will not affect how to apply a concept.

I recently helped a student prepare for the math section of the upcoming SAT.  One question in the practice book showed the graph of a line with no numbers.  The question asked the student to select the equation of the line.  If the student knew the concept of graphs of lines (slopes, y-intercepts, etc.) then they would have been able to solve the problem easily.  They could determine whether the slope was positive or negative and whether the y-intercept was positive or negative.  Without the understanding of these concepts, the student was not able to answer the question.  Once I explained the concepts and details, then the student understood.

Concept-based learning should be a central focus when teaching mathematics.  Otherwise, students will continue to stumble over content when situations and contexts change.

What are your thoughts on concept based learning?