Friday, April 12, 2013

Society's view on math

I read the article “Mathematics Education: A Way Forward” by David Wees, ,
and it started with the equation:
 Population × Bad curriculum Multiple generations = Functionally innumerate population.
Which is such a true statement, that we don’t always think about. The adult population, of American as well as Canada, has a generally bad experience with math. Not only was it a boring subject in school, they were also told by their parents that it is okay to hate math. I believe that it is critical that we realize that as a society Americans don’t like math, as future and current math teachers we need to foster an environment where it is easy to like math. Though this article is about Canadian math education, I think it applies to American math education as well. This article focuses on three ways to make math more enjoyable and beneficial to society. The three ways are: changing the curriculum to real-life problem solving situations, making the material relevant, and boosting engagement.

            The first way, changing the curriculum, is currently being partially done for us. With the common core standards going into effect students are seeing many more problem solving style questions and being asked to explain their reasoning for their work. In this way we are already addressing the first problem. The second part of this, however, is to do problem solving in our classrooms. Whether it’s projects, homework questions, or our lectures, we can incorporate problem solving skills into our classroom.

            The second way is making the material relevant. To me this is the reason most students begin to not like math, they are not shown any uses for it and cannot find any themselves. A feeble application of mathematics is almost worse than none at all because it is seen as a confirmation that there are no uses for math; that the teacher is grasping at straws to come up with an application for the math they are learning. Honestly some students will never use calculus or trigonometry, but some students also won’t use poetry. It isn’t showing that all math can be used by everyone, the important thing is showing that all math has a use or purpose other than “it’s on the test”.

            The final way is boosting engagement, this ties in with making the material relevant. By making the content relate to the students you greatly increase their interest, and their desire to learn. Even little things, like using students’ names in problems engage that student more. But bigger things, like relating the material to their hobbies or making fun activities that use the material, can have a huge effect on a student’s desire to learn. When a student wants to learn, they can move mountains; when they do not want to learn you cannot make them.

            I see these three things as highly important to us changing society’s view on math, one student at a time. I would like to eventually have a society where it isn’t okay to hate math the way that it isn’t okay to hate English, the way that it isn’t okay to dislike grocery stores. Many other teachers and I would like to have a culture where math is just another tool in our tool belt that we can use to solve daily problems. This is the change in society that I would like to see.