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Open and Closed Mathematics: Student Experiences and Understandings

Jo Boaler 

January 1998, Volume 29, Issue 1, Page 41

Abstract:
This paper reports on three-year case studies of two schools with alternative mathematical teaching approaches. One school used a traditional, textbook approach; the other used open-ended activities at all times. Using various forms of case study data, including observations, questionnaires, interviews, and quantitative assessments, I will show the ways in which the 2 approaches encouraged different forms of knowledge. Students who followed a traditional approach developed a procedural knowledge that was of limited use to them in unfamiliar situations. Students who learned mathematics in an open, project-based environment developed a conceptual understanding that provided them with advantages in a range of assessments and situations. The project students had been "apprenticed" into a system of thinking and using mathematics that helped them in both school and nonschool settings.