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Math & Pasta AHS Final

Math & Pasta AHS Final

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Published by davisfc50

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Published by: davisfc50 on Sep 12, 2012
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H. S
University of CaliforniaBerkeley, CA 94720 USA
Citation:Schoenfeld, A. H. (1998). Making mathematics and making pasta: Fromcookbook procedures to really cooking. In J. G. Greeno & S. V. Goldman(Eds.),
Thinking practices in mathematics and science learning
(pp. 299-319).Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
This paper owes its existence, in multiple ways, to Jim Greeno. Its proximatecause is the present conference on intellectual practices. But this meeting is onlythe latest in a long series of conversations and events in which Jim and I haveexplored the notion of what it is to understand and do mathematics, or science, . .. , or anything else, for that matter. The discussions have been far-reaching, asseems fitting when one's task is to understand the ways the mind works. Buthere, motivated by some of the not-worked-out suggestions in a recent paper of  Jim's, I am going to stretch even farther than usual. These efforts should beunderstood as an exercise in the spirit of a tried and true problem solvingheuristic, "consider extreme cases."Part of the background for this attempt is as follows. Through the years, LeonHenkin has organized a mathematics education study group that gets togetherintermittently to discuss papers of interest. The group met this past summer. Ivolunteered to lead a discussion of Jim's (1991) paper on number sense, havingwanted for some time to give the paper a careful reading. That paper isspeculative, looking in various directions for ways to conceptualize competence.As one would expect, the notion of situated cognition was prominent in thepaper: a major hypothesis being advanced was that being good at an intellectualpractice such as doing mathematics is, in ways yet to be elaborated, akin to beingaccomplished at activities such as cooking. Thus, for example, in the section on"knowing in conceptual environments" (pp. 174-185), one finds the following:"Learning the domain, in this view [the "environmental view"] isanalogous to learning to live in an environment: learning your wayaround, learning what resources are available, and learning how to usethose resources in conducting your activities productively and enjoyably."(p. 175). . . "In [pursuing] the metaphor of an environment such as akitchen or a workshop, this section is about knowing how to make thingswith materials that are in the environment. . . ." (p. 177)
Making Mathematics and Pasta Page 2As it happens, Jim's metaphor places two of my passions, mathematics and food,in close juxtaposition. And as it happens, the day that I was preparing Jim'spaper for discussion I went to the market with some vague ideas about what Iwas going to make for dinner – a pasta concoction of some sort, most likely usinggoat cheese as an ingredient – and I had come home to invent a new (for me atleast) goat cheese ravioli dish. Thinking about the issues raised in Jim's paper, Idecided to explore the parallels. Are there ways in which my understanding of cooking (and specifically, of making pasta) are akin to my understanding of mathematics; are there ways in which the learning and creative processes in bothare akin? If the parallels exist, do they merely represent facile analogies or isthere more than superficial substance to them? And if there is substance, whatare the implications? This paper is the result of the resulting ruminations. If nothing else, the reader will emerge from it with the recipes for two pretty goodpasta dishes.
Parallel 1: The development of Skill; Affordances.
 It is no accident, I think, that a great deal of elementary mathematics is referredto as cookbook mathematics – even supposedly advanced mathematics such asmax-min problems in calculus, where one follows algorithmic or essentiallyalgorithmic procedures to solve problems. In school mathematics the analogy iseven more direct: one learns step-by-step procedures for basic algorithms like base-10 subtraction. Following the procedures, like following a simple recipe,then guarantees results.
 But over time, cooks forsake the recipes – or at least they forsake following themslavishly – and they come to work with the materials themselves. I think there isa meaningful mathematical analogy. Let me start with the pasta, and then turnto the mathematics. In the case of making pasta, my own history is a case studyof "learning to read the properties of the materials at hand," or, in currentcognitive jargon, learning to perceive the affordances offered by the materials.
Well, maybe -- there is more certainty in mathematics recipes than in cooking, asanyone who has tried baking bread (for example) by following a recipe will tellyou.

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