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Where's the Wonder in Elementary Math? Encouraging Mathematical Reasoning in the Classroom

Judith McVarish
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Janet Wansick
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This book presents ideas and strategies to infuse critical thinking and reasoning into mathematics classrooms while acknowledging that this is not an easy task. Author Judith McVarish takes into account the constraints and demands teachers face in today’s test-driven society.

It is evident that the author has insight into teachers and students in contemporary classrooms. The author states:

Yet, in today’s accountability environment standardized tests are being used to make life-altering decisions about students, teachers, and schools and, therefore, cannot be ignored. Finding the appropriate balance between preparing students to take the standardized tests and assisting students in being more responsible for their own learning assessments is a difficult challenge. The challenge is worth the fight.

This book does a great job of not only encouraging parents, teachers, and students to take up the fight to engage in mathematics, but also providing practical activities and strategies that would help with the battle.

This book is intended to support the need for inquiry-based teaching in elementary classrooms. It will be a valuable resource to new teachers, to veteran teachers, and to college instructors of pre-service and in-service teachers. This book provides support for the claim that more needs to be done to transition from traditional teaching of mathematics to a more problem solving critical thinking approach. Integrated throughout the book are explanations of why math should be taught in this manner. These bits of wisdom are valuable in making the reader understand that this type of engaging discovery of mathematics is necessary for student learning. As the author says,

While rigid adherence to curriculum is meant to help students achieve higher test scores, national results show that this emphasis is not working. The cost, moreover, is a loss of joy about learning mathematics that not only decreases learning potential but also produces mathematics anxiety and frequently leaves students with a view that mathematics is a discrete set of skills with no relevance to their lives.

The examples that are provided from the author's own experiences are insightful and should cause teachers to want to try some of the techniques mentioned within these pages. Throughout this book parents, students, teachers, and administrators share their awareness of how mathematics is a part of their lives. A continuous theme of each chapter is that without a personal responsiveness to the mathematics in our lives, it will be difficult to awaken a mathematical excitement and relevance in our students. In addition, the author provides “Teacher As Researcher Thoughts” sections at the end of each chapter to provide ideas about research that teachers could conduct related to the content of each chapter. These sections serve as a call to action that should not be ignored.

I would recommend that anyone connected to education, specifically to mathematics education, read and reflect on this book.

Janet D. Wansick ( is an assistant professor of mathematics at East Central University in Ada, OK. She began her teaching career in the middle school classroom teaching 7th and 8th grade mathematics before moving to the high school and eventually to the college level. She works with numerous classroom teachers at all levels and conducts mathematics partnership workshops. Her research areas of interest include mathematics education, curriculum and pedagogy, and mathematical assessment.

Introduction  1. Setting the Stage  2. What Does the Room Teach?  3. Who Asks the Questions – Who Answers Them?  4. Tuning Transitions to a New Key  5. What is Real About Homework?  6. De-Fanging the Test  7. How Can We Take Critical Thinking Beyond the Classroom?  8. What do Parents Know?  9. Is Thinking About Thinking Just a Play on Words?