Mathematical Argumentation as a 21st Century Skill

By Harriette Stevens | December 12, 2017

We were recently lucky enough to present at the annual conference of the National Alliance of Black Educators. It was full of interesting sessions, which I didn’t have enough time to explore thoroughly. Our session was entitled, Advancing Students’ Engagement, Communication and Positive Identities as Mathematics Learners. One of the points we made was that mathematical argumentation is great preparation for the world of work. Here’s our slide on that:

math argumentation slide
First off, having a positive identity with regard to mathematics is a huge plus. Being seen as someone good at math is cachet enough; knowing you really are is empowering, even if your job isn’t math intensive.

Three of our points have to do with collaboration, which is considered very important in the 21st century workplace. It’s crucial to spend the time making sure everyone is on the same page—terms and concepts is how we think of it in math, but it could be a shared understanding of policy or of goals that is critical in a workplace. And decision-making discourse should be based on evidence, not just opinion—we all know of times when opinion won out, not always for the better. Finally, “innovation” is a buzz word for a reason—new ideas are used at a rapid rate, and collaborating to come up with them creates stronger ideas.

Our final two points are more mathematical, but translate into non-mathy workplaces as well. People are pattern recognizers—honing that skill is useful in many situations. And, in the current world, streams of data come at us and are used to make decisions for us. How much stronger are we if we are capable of visualizing data in a variety of ways?

We also did a math activity with the leaders who attended our workshop. It’s at the heart of our book:

book page on rectangle coordinates

Let us know if you try it out and how it went!

In an upcoming blog entry, we’ll show how students used the skills in our presentation in this activity. Follow @jen_knudsen to keep up to date on our blog entries.

The images in this blog post can be found in our book: Knudsen, J., Stevens, H., Lara-Meloy, T., Kim, H., and Shechtman, N. (2017). Mathematical Argumentation in Middle School—The What, Why, and How. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.