Provoking Questions

So I teach at a Christian School and our principal asked us to make our classes “Thoroughly Christian” as our school motto/slogan describes.  I would argue that this is easier for the Social Studies and English departments than the Science, and especially the Math department.  Avoiding the silly math word problems (Question: So if the animals went on the Ark in pairs, and there were 176 species on the Ark, then how many animals did Moses save?  Answer: None.  Moses didn’t build the ark…) how can I make my math class more “Christian”?  One way, which I believe would be good even for the public schools whose teachers cannot mention “Jesus” without worrying about a lawsuit (actually, I did mentioned Jesus and even explained my faith to my students when I taught in public schools, but I did it towards the end of the year when I knew I wasn’t coming back to teach the following year.  I know, I know, you can share your faith as long as it is in an unbiased, and accepting way.  Anyway, I’m off topic just like I get in my classes…).

I ask that students write essays (10+ sentences) on specific “Provoking Questions”.  Sometimes these questions relate to their faith, sometimes they relate to society, and other times they relate to their personal lives.  Sometimes the questions are silly, while other times the questions are serious and maybe even personal.  They e-mail me their responses, and I post their responses on my website, both in Precalculus and in Chemistry.  In order to respect the privacy of students’ answers, I take their names away from their responses and post them anonymously.  Students may then comment on each other’s PQ’s (they leave their names here, so I can see and give them credit).  I offer Participation Points for both the PQ’s and the PQ Responses (many more are given for the PQ’s because I encourage students to complete those).

Some examples of questions include:

  • How do functions help us understand the attributes of God?
  • How could society misuse functions and mathematical models on both personal and societal levels?
  • Respond, Refute, Agree, Discuss, etc. the following statement: Jesus came to Earth to be an inverse. (Take this one seriously, it’s not meant to be silly.)

My hope for this assignment is that students examine their life and apply what they know about math to their lives.  If this assignment makes students think outside of the box even a little, this it is well worth the effort.  Parallel to this, my math classes therefore need to be teaching students a broad understanding of the math, and not just “how do I solve this kind of problem”.  I believe that the former type of teaching/learning contributes to a student’s ability to problem-solve and prepares them for the job market, while the latter prepares them for an end-of-grade test (sometimes).

Oh, and I have to mention that all of my math PQ’s are stolen from the previous Precalculus teacher, who also happens to be the current principal!  Let me know if you do something similar to this in your class, and how you get students to “think outside the box” and apply math class to their lives.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Provoking Questions

  1. I love this idea and implementation — definitely going to do this with my students!
    How about Kronecker’s quote for a prompt? “God created the integers; all else is the work of man.”
    Or, ask for a mathematical metaphor for the Trinity — is “2*2 = 2+2 = 2^2” a good one? I’m not sure… I’ll have to ponder it! (For Chemistry, this could be flipped to “critique the ice+water+gas metaphor”)
    Another quote, this time from Laplace when asked why his Treatise didn’t mention God: “I had no need for that hypothesis”. Does non-necessity imply non-sufficiency?
    Non-religious: “How is doing mathematics similar to reading the Jabberwocky (http://www.jabberwocky.com/carroll/jabber/jabberwocky.html)”
    ^ Carroll in general is good for over-applications of math to life (e.g., What the Tortoise said to Achilles)

    I’d love to hear more about how this turns out! If you get any good responses or questions please share!

    • Those are awesome! I actually made a mistake at the beginning of this year and gave the students the PQ’s which were supposed to come at the end of the first test, so now I have to come up with some that work for students starting Precalculus. I’m definitely going to use the ones you provided, so thanks a bunch!!

  2. playing devil’s advocate (pardon the pun), have your students respond to the St. Augustine quotation:
    “The good Christian should beware of mathematicians. The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell.”

    Also, you could try to get them to analyze supposed mathematical/scientific inaccuracies of the Bible such as ‘pi is three’ or the impossibility (?) of stories such as Noah’s Ark, Walls of Jericho, sun standing still, etc.

    • I always enjoy playing devil’s advocate as well, and I appreciate the insightful questions that challenge our students, both in terms of curriculum and beliefs (something I appreciate that our school does in general). I will certainly put these comments in my big folder of PQ’s to pull from–thanks!!

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