Monday, August 13, 2007

High school math - 8/13

I spent a lot of time travelling and meeting new people this summer. It was a busy summer. I do remember one conversation that I had with a gentleman about teaching math in high school. His comment was that most people do not use high school math after they get out of school. Is this true? I know that a lot of the math that is learned in school would be more applicable to an engineer, but is it useful to a person who is working in a non-math related field? If high school math is giving exposure to students to try to push them into the fields that are math related, then should we be teaching something else to the "non-math" students? How could a math curriculum be changed to have more relevance to the real world? I have been questioning the need for all the things that are being taught to our students in the math curriculum and I wonder how much of what they learn is going to be used beyond the classroom walls. What else can be done in a classroom setting that can teach problem-solving, logic, reasoning, attention to detail, etc. that are learned from a math class without having to teach topics that might only be applicable to a future engineer?


Blogger zac said...


The problem with most high school mathematics is that it is text-book based (and test-based).

Math should be taught the way science should be taught - starting from intriguing problems that inspire the students to want to discover more and solve more.

We first learn math as a natural part of life (counting, concepts of "more" and "less", measurement, etc). It's only after schools institutionalize the learning that students rightly get the feeling that they will never use most of it later.

You may be interested to read: When am I gonna use this stuff?"

11:56 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

Excellent questions, James. My thinking is pretty much along the same lines as Zac's - we should be asking students to solve intriguing problems, real problems, relevant problems. In short, we should be asking them to do math, really apply math, not just to learn facts and algorithms that other folks have learned.

One of the things that has always bothered me about my own math education was that it wasn't until college, deep into my math major, that I had the opportunity to take a course called "Applied Math." I've always wondered, shouldn't it have been applied math all along the way for kids, and not just saved for math majors in college? Yes, I know, folks will argue that you have to have all that other stuff before you can apply it, and there is some truth to that. But I just don't think it's that cut and dried - I think you can combine the two approaches and allow students to experience and apply mathematics at all levels.

For me, though, one of the biggest hurdles (in addition to everyone's conception of what "math" is supposed to be) is the curriculum we have. It really is designed in many ways to prepare folks to be math professors, and obviously not too many students are going to end up there. Some of the most interesting, relevant, and useful mathematics for all students - both when they are in high school and after they get out - is probability and statistics. Yet that course is an elective that relatively few students take. And while certainly more of that is being incorporated into our Algebra I and II courses, I still think it's not emphasized enough.

Not for school, but for life, we learn. If we believe that, then perhaps we need to rethink our math curriculum just a little at AHS.

1:25 PM  

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