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Making Sense of Numbers

(Seminar in Critical Thinking, CCT611, F 01)

(9/01)
Initial Goals
Early in the summer I changed the theme of my Fall '01 Critical Thinking seminar from Science in Society (see 4.) to Making Sense of Numbers for three reasons: a) there was a number of math. teachers among new or prospective CCT students, but no science teachers; b) CCT650, Math. Thinking Skills would not be offered in the fall; and c) experienced graduate students from this course might qualify as teachers for an equivalent undergraduate Quantitative Reasoning seminar in the Spring '02 and beyond.

Like CCT611 in Sp 99 and CCT640 (see 4. and 7. above), the course will operate on three levels, the first level in this case being "learn[ing] a variety of tools for quantitative reasoning and how to interpret their application to situations of social significance." My training and scientific work has involved much quantitative/mathematical work and many of the classes build on activities developed in other contexts. Nevertheless, the course is explicitly experimental and my goal is to model the ongoing pedagogical development I expect of the students. I particularly look forward to leading a three-week unit of full-blown Problem-Based Learning (drawing on Nina Greenwald's expertise) and coaching the students to compile their Personal/Professional Development workbooks (see comments on CCT640 earlier).

Challenges and Responses
The students are all new or prospective CCT students, so I have to get them comfortable with journaling; learning through activities, not lectures; my revise and resubmit system; and other CCT-style practices. The bigger challenge, however, has been adjusting to the turmoil and stress after the September 11 attacks. On the 12th. I introduced them to pairwise constructivist or supportive listening, but ten minutes of this was barely enough for me to focus on the rest of the class. The following week, I led a discussion on "What stops people asking why" as the fundamental question of critical thinking and then asked them to prepare on index cards their own critical thinking questions in this situation concerning numbers. I plan to continue to acknowledge in different ways that we cannot readily return to life/work as usual. Meanwhile, for this and other situations, we have to examine why the numbers we need are difficult either to find, to make sense of, or to get attention paid to their implications.

Future Plans
n/a yet
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