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Proposal: Mathematics Learning, Studying, and Education

There is already quite some discussion about the (final) name of the site, but to me this seems somewhat backwards. I think we should start with sharpening the target audience, looking at the question themselves of course.

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    You lost me at the last paragraph: If “self-teachers” should be included in your opinion, why should students be excluded? From a certain level on, every student has to self-teach to some extent. Not to mention that students are better at spotting certain didactical shortcomings due to their different point of view and may cross the line from learning to teaching as soon as they learn in groups and quickly become official teachers themselves. Not to forget that the question how to best graps a certain concept is relevant for teachers and for learners. – Wrzlprmft Jan 30 '14 at 17:54
  • Also, the main point about the discussion on the name of the site is a very relevant one, since there is a certain audience which everybody seems to want to avoid, namely people who expect that we teach mathematics to them directly. – Wrzlprmft Jan 30 '14 at 17:57
  • Also, you might want to take a look at the self-learning questions on the Math SE. – Wrzlprmft Jan 30 '14 at 18:16
  • @Wrzlprmft I did not want to exclude students either. In particular, as you say they are self-teaching so they are self-teachers which means... My point was, along what Pete L. Clark said on the names discussion, that the main audience here should be "teachers" dually to math.SE were its says "people studying math at any level." (We could replace "teachers" by "people teaching" to have still more parallelity). – quid Jan 30 '14 at 20:39
  • My point is exatly to write down if this consensus (is it?!) that everybody want to avoid a certain audience. That is the point of this. And I think it is better to approach this directly. If you want to have a more inclusive formulation than mine, feel free to suggest one. But again let us be clear about what 'everybody' wants instead of doing this discussion via some nuances in the name. Most all the well received questions seem clear 'teachers' question. And I mean written from the persepective of a teacher. Look I am anon. I could be anything. I's really not about formal qualification. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 20:42
  • “If you want to have a more inclusive formulation than mine, feel free to suggest one.” – “But again let us be clear about what 'everybody' wants instead of doing this discussion via some nuances in the name.” – “But, the goal in changing the target audience is really not so much to be exclusive, only experience from other sites tells me that one should be rather more strict in the description.” Sorry, but this is really confusing. Are you talking about what we want the target audience to be or what wording in the description of the target audience is best to achieve this? – Wrzlprmft Jan 30 '14 at 21:32
  • @Wrzlprmft my point is that (if it were up to me) it should be clear that one (typically) cannot ask anything that is "please explain me topic/result X" directly or couched into some pseudo-teaching question. Everybody, no matter their formal qualifications or employements status or whatever, should feel free to ask reasonable questions on didactics/pedagogy of math and also more pratical aspects of teaching math. For example, onMO it says "professional mathematicians" but this does not mean that people need to be employed as mathematicians. Likewise, when I say 'teacher' I do not... – quid Jan 30 '14 at 21:51
  • ...mean to impose some formal rule that onle teachers (in some specific sense) should be allowed to use the site (I do not want to exclude anybody, the site is free for everybody) but it is not free for everything. It should be clear that a question should be one that is one somebody with some (minimal) familairity with teaching math might ask. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 21:52
  • That’s exactly my point: You talk about what words we should use to describe the target audience – which is a valid issue, but a different question than what we want the target audience to be. In the same breath, however, you criticise that we discuss the wording of the name of this proposal. – Wrzlprmft Jan 30 '14 at 21:57
  • @Wrzlprmft personally I want that the target audience is what I said. But still I want it to be known that this is to be understood broadly/in an inclusive way. Everybody being able to participate in a meaningful way on a Q&A site for this target audience is still welcome to be part of it/the audience. However, in case of conflict it is the target audience's interest that should be considered as most relevant. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 22:07
  • Can I suggest that you edit your OP to just ask the question, which I agree needs discussion, and put your opinion in an answer where it can be voted upon and commented separately from your question. I disagree with your desire to limit this site to teachers. You and I have debated this already and I don't want to take that further, but the way you've framed your question makes it difficult for others to separate the usefulness of the question from their thoughts about your opinions. – Geoff Pointer Feb 18 '14 at 22:51
  • @GeoffPointer I copied the opionante part it to an answer (slightly edited). – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:22
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First of all, it is a good point that every Stack Exchange site includes a short blurb describing the target audience. Here are a few:

  • Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields.

  • MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians

  • Mathematica Stack exchange is a question and answer site for users of Wolfram Mathematica.

  • Academia is a question and answer site for academics of all levels.

It seems to me that a good one for this site would be something like:

[Name to be determined] is a question and answer site for mathematics teachers, math education researchers, and anyone interested in the process of teaching or learning mathematics.

It's true that it feels premature to talk about this sentence before deciding on a title. On the other hand, I discussing this sentence might be helpful for choosing a title, because it clarifies the different ways that we all think about this potential site.

It seems that one main point of contention is whether we want students on this site. My answer to this question is yes, but only if they want to talk about teaching, curriculum, or pedagogy. I can certainly imagine student questions that would pertain to these topics, such as:

  • Why do we learn straightedge and compass constructions in geometry class?

  • Why is it important for me to learn to do math without a calculator?

  • Why are real analysis and abstract algebra required for a math major?

  • Is there a good way to remember all of these logarithm rules?

  • Is it better to take AP Calculus or AP Statistics?

  • How can I study for calculus tests more effectively?

(Note: If you like one of these questions, feel free to post it as an example question on the main site.)

At the same time, I think it's much more common for students to have questions about math itself, as opposed to the process of teaching or learning mathematics. Any question that's primarily about mathematics should be migrated to the Mathematics Stack Exchange, and it's an important practical goal to minimize the frequency of such questions. As I have stated elsewhere I think this means that the title of the site should be very clear about the type of questions we're looking for.

In summary, I don't think that we should exclude students (or any interested audience), but I do think it's very important to exclude certain types of questions.

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    Thanks for the detailed answer! I agree with a lot. But I am very sceptical regarding "anyone interested in the process of teaching or learning mathematics." I am worried this will be read as "anyone interested in learning math." Ccould we at least have "anyone interested in the didactics of mathematics" or "mathematical pedagogy" or anything like this. But just not learning (and better not teaching). – quid Jan 30 '14 at 23:30
  • I'm not sure I agree with quid that there's something wrong with teaching - but I do agree that we should not use learning. – Mike Miller Jan 30 '14 at 23:47
  • Yes @Mike perhaps to be worried about the word 'teaching' is overly worried. If we would have 'anyone interested in the process of teaching' I think this would work for me. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 23:59
  • For completeness here is what the proposal Education says: "for professional educators and education researchers, K-12 & higher ed teachers, vocational teachers, school administrators, school faculty, education psychologists, education historians, education theorists and philosophers, non-profit educationists" Not everything seems relevant to us, but they mention only professionals. This does not mean we have to do this too, only it would also not be that odd an idea, IMO. – quid Jan 31 '14 at 0:00
  • @quid I share your concern, but I suppose I think that "learning" is ok for the description on the about page, as long as it's not part of the title at the top of the main page. I don't feel strongly about it. – Jim Belk Jan 31 '14 at 0:14
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    It will not only be on the about page. It will be at various places sometimes deprived from more context, like in that list stackexchange.com/sites, thus it should be as clear as possible. Also, it should be somewhat "search resistant" regarding "wrong" searches. What if somebody searches the page with the just mentioned list for an SE site for 'learning mathematics' Chances are this one will be the top-hit. – quid Jan 31 '14 at 0:23
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    Looking over what questions I like and which ones I don't, I think that perhaps I'd like the target audience to be educators. That students might get use out of the community should be possible, but incidental. Certainly one learning mathematics can make use of understanding the pedagogy (or a self-learner might appreciate some questions on teaching individual students, say), but I don't think we should cater to them in the title or in the about page or in the questions. – Mike Miller Feb 1 '14 at 2:37
  • Your suggested blurb is spot on. My mantra: You are not teaching if your students are not learning. It seems to me that student feedback is essential. I get that you're concerned about avoiding traffic more appropriate for Math.SE but I don't see why we can't sort that out as we go along. Your blurb could possibly add a few words to clarify the distinction which your suggested questions highlight well. I disagree that the blurb is premature. If we don't yet know what this is there's no point trying to name it. – Geoff Pointer Feb 18 '14 at 6:39
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    @GeoffPointer the problem are the sheer numbers. A tiny fraction of the math.SE traffic would totally swamp this new site. A site 2/3 of whose frontpage would be closed question will not be that inviting. It is key to get this right the first time, and in doubt better be too strict. There might not be a second chance. – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:27
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It seems to me the example questions are mainly questions asked from a teachers perspective, and I think we should really focus on this. Otherwise, that is having many questions about how do I go about learning/understanding something and so on, it will be much harder to keep up a meaningful distinction to the actual mathematics sites.

In my opinion the target audience should be

Teachers of mathematics (at any level) and researchers in mathematics education

This does not mean I want to exclude anybody in a strict sense. And, the goal in changing the target audience is really not so much to be exclusive, only experience from other sites tells me that one should be rather more strict in the description. Interested students and however else interested, are certainly welcome, but regarding content the thus declared target audience will provide an additional guideline regarding the type of question welcome on the site.

  • This was except for sme editing and clarification part of the question (and predates all other answers); I moved it to an answer as this was requested in a comment. – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:23
  • My -1 is based on comments I've placed elsewhere. I won't repeat them here. I think Jim's is the best answer and my reason is in a comment there. Your comments indicate to me that you are still having some difficulties expressing yourself in English, which is not a criticism as such. For example: your concerned about the phrase "anyone interested in learning math". As a teacher I want feedback from students and in particular those interested in learning maths. All we are concerned about is that specific maths content questions are redirected to Math.SE. – Geoff Pointer Feb 18 '14 at 23:35
  • @GeoffPointer So then ask your students for feedback. The idea to get meaningful feedback from (average) students on this site is extremely naive. Some students might contribute something good, but typically they will be very atypical students. – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:40
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    @GeoffPointer Regarding language, what type of grammatical construction is "your concerned"? – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:44
  • Math.SE gets lots of ridiculous or inappropriate questions and answers from new users who don't get how the site is intended to work. That's why they have first post queues and the process works very well. Why should this site be any different in that regard? And telling me I'm extremely naive is not going to help. – Geoff Pointer Feb 18 '14 at 23:48
  • I think you are getting far too tangled up in the translation of English words. In everyday English, the word education is used as a noun, a verb and an adjective, in phrases from a very long list, meaning a variety of different things. (1) An educated person. (2) An educated guess. (2) You need an education to get by in life. (3) Obtaining an education. (4) Delivering an education. (5) The study of the process of education from all perspectives. (6) Drop out of school and get an education from the library. This last one indicates that one could have a bad attitude to school but not education. – Geoff Pointer Feb 18 '14 at 23:49
  • @GeoffPointer the last comment seems off-topic here, but yes all these usages seem fine to mine (and also were familiar to me). Look, a native spaeker experienced on SE sites also voiced concern that many people do not know what mathematics education means (incidentally I am not one of them, but they do exist and they do use SE sites) and this could be a problem. It seems it cannot be only my lacking knowledge of English. – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:56
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    And, the difference will be that this site will be (at least initially) quite small while math.SE is relatively huge (it was even some problem for MO when the site joined the network, while being a sizeable and stable site). Yeah, likely we can close all this. But first it is a pain, if you do not have enough people to help out, and second this will still leave us with a frontpage full of closed questions, which will be 'very inviting' for new legitimate users. – quid Feb 18 '14 at 23:58
  • I'm not claiming my comment about the everyday use of the word education is on topic. It's an answer to your misdirected phobia about the word. Most "English As A First Language" people who have a bad attitude to Education period are not going to bother with sites like this. For those "English As A First Language" people who don't get the full use of the word Education, but don't have a bad attitude to learning: perhaps our new site will be the place to come and learn about it's many facets and learn how better to frame their questions and where. – Geoff Pointer Feb 19 '14 at 0:14
  • @GeoffPointer Where in this post is there any "phobia about the word [education]"? (If you still want to discuss other posts please to this there.) Also did you notice that in the scope I suggest I used "researchers in mathematics education" myself? – quid Feb 19 '14 at 0:18
  • My comment is in answer to "a native speaker experienced on SE sites also voiced concern that many people do not know what mathematics education means (incidentally I am not one of them, but they do exist and they do use SE sites) and this could be a problem." which is part of a comment you made here. – Geoff Pointer Feb 19 '14 at 1:59
  • @GeoffPointer I complained about the off-topic nature (in any case, in this thread) of your comment starting with "I think." You justified this comment as it being an answer to my "phobia." Now, asked about this "phobia," which justified that comment, you however mention a comment I made after the comment I complained about. Something is wrong here. Moreover, if you are interested in a serious disscussion may I suggest again that you reflect upon how your believes regarding my troubled relation to the word education are compatible with my proposal to include it in the scope. – quid Feb 19 '14 at 11:21
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I can understand your logic, but at the same time, if you cannot describe what you want in a very concise "elevator pitch" — with an easily-understood title and simple description — you'll likely have a lot of trouble gathering support.

Coming up with a title and description of what you envision is step one. If you're just throwing everything into a big pile (like the proverbial "kitchen sink"), the name you try to come up with later to capture it all will be horribly convoluted with a gerrymandered scope that will never gather support. That's not the way to rally folks around an idea.

You almost have to come up with the title first to let people rally around… something. You can get it wrong and fix it later, but if you're starting with the premise, "we don't know what we want, but we'll figure that out later," that's not the way to pitch a "product" … and it makes it even harder to attract an audience.

  • I think you in fact do not understand my logic, but thanks for trying :-) I think I could describe perfectly well what I want, it is just I did not write it to begin with and it is not clear if others want the same thing as I want. The easiest way to find this out IMO is to decide what the main target audience should be, as opposed to discussiong whether math education, teaching mathematics, or didactics of mathematics would be better to convey something of which it is not agreed upon what it is. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 17:32
  • Put differently at the moment we have exactly that kitchen sink situation, where some want a site for professionals (in teaching math and related research) while some others seem to envision some help site for undergraduates. To discuss if it is Teaching Math or Math Teaching seems a bit of an indirect way to decide this, so I want to adress this important quetsion directly. – quid Jan 30 '14 at 17:38
  • Finally the current description specifies the target audience (at least this is what I mean) as "math educators, enthusiasts, students, professors" I propose to change this to what I said. Why is that a less legitimate subject of current discussion than whether it is Mathematics Learning Studying Education or instead Teaching Mathematics or Didactics of Mathematics or still something else – quid Jan 30 '14 at 17:40

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