Monday, August 25, 2008

Why math?

I decided to start the year with a new project for all of my math classes. This project is an attempt to answer the eternal question with math, "When am I going to use this?" I asked all the students to pick a profession that they are interested in pursuing. Then we developed an introductory paragraph for every student to email out to a person that works in that profession. Here is the paragraph and questions that my classes and fellow teachers came up with:

Hello, my name is your full name here, from Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado. I am currently taking Algebra 2, and we are trying to discover some real world applications to mathematics. I am hoping that you can share some of your experiences to enlighten my fellow students and me on why math is important. I would appreciate it if you would take a few minutes to answer the following questions.
1. How do you use math in your profession? Outside of your profession?
2. Are there any experiences – academic or otherwise - that particularly helped you learn and apply math in your profession?
3. What specific advice would you give to someone thinking about entering your profession if they want to help prepare themselves in the best possible way?
4. Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently as a learner?
5. Please add any additional comments or questions that you feel you would like to share.
Thank you for your time,
Your name here

I am hoping the students will come up with a variety of ways to make some contacts and get answers to these questions from professionals who are currectly working in the field. I am not sure how this will turn out but we will see. Once I have compiled enough responses, I am going to create a wiki page to share everything.


Blogger Cara S. said...

This sounds like a cool idea James. I'll be interested in a future post letting us know how it turns out!

6:50 PM  
Blogger rogerr said...

Hi: Sounds great - I do a career exploration piece with students that includes the importance of math in their career of choice. It would be very interesting to hear from the folk in those jobs.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Ken Sipe said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Ken Sipe said...

I thought I would leave a comment on Math in my profession.

First, I'm a software developer so I use math all the time... it just depends on the problem I'm trying to solve. But that isn't the first application of math that came to mind.

I'm also a private pilot. There is a significant amount of pre-flight that goes into flying a plane, especially if it is cross country. This includes getting the current and future winds, which includes winds aloft. The winds at different altitude will determine which altitude you will fly at. Also winds are not given for every altitude, but for every 3 thousand feet. So there is some interpolation. Then there is the winds at the destination which determine which runway to land on. This gets tricky, because the plane is only rated for a given cross wind. So if the wind is coming at you at 20 knots at 30 degrees either side of the runway. You have to figure out what the cross wind component is. This is all vector math.

In answering your other questions... I find application a great teacher. So I would rather learn something I need to know.

If you are going to be a programmer, you have to have a good understanding of math and number systems.

What would I have done differently in learning in my youth? First know that learning never ends! And don't be afraid to fail. There is a lot of learning that happens with each failure. The trick is to learn from it... many do not. Most people are so afraid to fail... that they never try. That is a true failure. Everything else is just different degrees of learning. You may learn a way that something doesn't work. It is something you didn't know before you started. If I had to do it over again, I would have tried more. I would have asked more girls out, etc.

In closing... if there is one thing that drives me to learn... it is the realization that there are lots of subjects we (people in general) claim we have answers to... when we really don't. It is the unknown that is just plain fun. For example: Dark Matter is the name for stuff we don't understand. Our mathematical equations for how the universe works don't work... there is something missing. We don't know what it is... we don't know how to prove it... instead of calling it x or y, we call it dark matter. Same thing could be said for dark energy.

2:13 PM  

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