Mathematical Proficiency

Our analyses of the mathematics to be learned, our reading of the research in cognitive psychology and mathematics education, our experience as learners and teachers of mathematics, and our judgment as to the mathematical knowledge, understanding, and skill people need today have led us to adopt a composite, comprehensive view of successful mathematics learning. Recognizing that no term captures completely all aspects of expertise, competence, knowledge, and facility in mathematics, we have chosen mathematical proficiency to capture what we think it means for anyone to learn mathematics successfully. Mathematical proficiency, as we see it, has five strands:

  • conceptual understanding—comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations, and relations

  • procedural fluency—skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately

  • strategic competence—ability to formulate, represent, and solve mathematical problems

  • adaptive reasoning—capacity for logical thought, reflection, explanation, and justification

  • productive disposition—habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy.

The most important observation we make about these five strands is that they are interwoven and interdependent. This observation has implications for how students acquire mathematical proficiency, how teachers develop that proficiency in their students, and how teachers are educated to achieve that goal.

The Mathematical Knowledge Children Bring to School

Children begin learning mathematics well before they enter elementary school. Starting from infancy and continuing throughout the preschool period, they develop a base of skills, concepts, and misconceptions. At all ages, students encounter quantitative situations outside of school from which they learn a variety of things about number. Their experiences include, for example, noticing that a sister received more candies, counting the stairs

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