The Importance of Framing

Just about all of us have been there: that one dreaded math class that feels like a drag on your whole day. For some people, that’s been just about every math class. And for others, we’ve almost never been there (myself included). This typically stark contrast in outlook on math makes me wonder at what point does math education becomes less fun and surprising and more confusing and mind numbing?

Our recent discussions on critical pedagogy, made me realize that the biggest issue is framing. A lot of math classes take on the same form: topic introduction, repetitive practice, testing/assessment. Although most math classes take on this form, some are more bearable than others. So, what is the difference? It must be the framing. Here, by framing, I refer to how material is presented and the attitude used to approach it. For some people, the idea of learning a method and finding different ways to repetitively use it is mentally stimulating enough to stay interested. I find myself in this group of people; it’s like learning a new rule in a puzzle game and you get to play puzzles all day. However, for others, this is a nightmare. This kind of framing hearkens back to the need to educate students to repetitively carry out a task to be successful in assembly lines which were integral to the work force in the 1920’s.

With the rise of technology, this sort of student is no longer needed and repetition no longer provides students with the skills they need. Consequently, our framing of education, in general, needs to change as well. We no longer need that repetitive driving of knowledge into students’ minds. Instead, we should be constantly finding ways to incorporate different teamwork, critical thinking, and diverse problem solving skills. Our framing of education should be done in a way that can still excite students, whether it be game-style lectures, problem/project-based learning, or simply reworking/rewriting traditional lectures to include relevant topics to students. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I believe simply making an effort will make a world of difference. So drop that textbook you’ve been teaching from for the past however many years, and find a new way for students to discover information instead of trying to cram it in their heads.

At what point did the framing of your math classes become boring or unbearable for you (if it ever did)? If it didn’t, what kept the fun going for you?


Math Joke of the day: You might think my calculus jokes are derivative, but they are an integral part of me.

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7 thoughts on “The Importance of Framing

  1. erinleighvt says:

    Thank you for your post! I would say that I fall somewhere in the middle – I don’t specifically remember ever really dreading math classes, but I also don’t specifically remember looking forward to them either. I agree with you that how we frame anything is imperative to how it is received — why “used” cars are typically referred to as “pre-owned” by salespeople! 🙂

  2. Matthew says:

    I enjoyed my math classes in the way you described them, as puzzles waiting to be solved. However, I didn’t really appreciate what I was doing until I started seeking out different explanations of the math concepts I was learning. A lot of this was through youtube where a lot of the explanations had graphical components instead of only numbers on the board. The same information I had learned took on a different meaning because the way I was solving puzzles, what the puzzle looked, and what the solution to each puzzle meant was shown in a different way. It can be easy getting lost in the numbers without understanding what you’re doing on a big picture scale.

  3. zookat13 says:

    Great point! I think that framing is especially important in entry level classes and/or situations where you know that most of your students are not aiming to specialize in the subject. I know that algebra and calculus frequently come up as things everyone had to learn in school, but are rarely need in most of our daily lives. Framing these classes as “We’re helping you learn how to approach complex problems from multiple angles” makes them seem much more useful and enjoyable than “You have to take this class to pass, no matter how much you hate math. “

  4. Wow, I love your application of framing towards math curricula! It has me thinking, my math educational experiences have been totally centered around the destination versus the journey. Meaning, I feel my experiences I math courses have emphasized getting the right answer versus correctly solving. I felt the journey of math was stagnant, a one way, and for myself, typically a dead end. I think math could be framed to be more engaging and exciting. It’d be great to learn more than one way to solve a math problem. It would be fun to learn shortcuts that were maybe unrelated to our material (I’m not sure if this is possible). Also, it would be interesting to see a grade based on solving the equation, not just the answer! The grading of everything but the answer could be an interesting framing on math education.

    • gabrils says:

      I’m glad you say that because that is exactly how I intend to structure my classes! More math instructors (especially at the lower levels) really should value the thought process and not the exact outcome. I’m a huge proponent of partial credit when mistakes are extremely small or insignificant. Also, shortcuts unrelated the material are totally possible and I love to go off on those types of tangents to discuss fundamental theorems. One of my favorites is teaching people how to multiply big numbers like 1900*1900 in an algebraic style without a calculator. Most people aren’t usually interested though because they are too focused on trying to just get through the material!

  5. Anmol Haque says:

    I think the last time I enjoyed math class was in high school. I remember having the worst experiences in the engineering college. Such bad “framing” as you named it. I was once asked- why do we do dy/dx- what is the importance of that- I could not answer. It made me realize what had I actually learnt in the past years!

  6. dustinsong says:

    Hi Gabrielle,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on framing classes to help students learn better. I think this is especially critical in the early phase of study. One reason is young kids will start and maintain their interest of math from playing and engaging in the activities. By actually learning and achieving, kids are less afraid of math or even fall in love with math. Another point I want to mention is studying by nature is both painful and rewarding. It is never just fun or just pain. By discovering new things or extending understanding of novel ideas, we suffer and then thrill during this journey. When students want to pursue their higher education, it would be helpful to have this in mind and keep going on with it.

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