On Thursday's post, I shared a Washington Post article that raises the question about how much math one needs in everyday life. I raised the same question in the post wondering if anyone would comment. Unfortunately, there were none. With the changes to our state's graduation requirements in math and the national emphasis on math, it is difficult to take a stance against students taking more math. Yet, I know that there are people who do not believe that all students should be required to meet standard in geometry to graduate. It would be hard to support geometry as necessary for everyday life. So, why the graduation requirement and the national emphasis on more math for all.

Care to share your thoughts?

## Sunday, October 31, 2010

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## 5 comments:

Well, I am going to not comment first on how much math necessarily a student needs but rather on how important I believe it is that we graduate well rounded students. I think that with all the emphasis on reading, writing, and math, I am worried about the arts, health and fitness, and our CTE courses to name a few, being lost and that kids will not have the opportunities to be exposed to the many wonderful things that our schools can offer.

With that said, I think that having geometry as a requirement is not too high of a standard to meet. When I was in 9th grade, I earned an F in geometry due to my lack of motivation to do well. In 10th grade I took geometry again and I passed with A's and B's. My parents forcing me to take it again and pass showed me an importance of doing well in school. While I have to say that doing "proofs" has never come into play in my life since, many of the other skills I took from that class I have used.

Students need math skills. In elementary only about 30% of my students know there basic multiplication facts in 5th grade. We need to find a way to motivate our students to buy in to math and it needs to happen at an even younger age. We get them reading well in elementary, we now need to find the solution for math.

I am not sure I answered the really question for this post but this is what is going through my head.

Dan Meyer is a former math teacher who loves to think about math curricula. He includes in his blog (www.blog.mrmeyer.com) a feature called Pseudocontext Saturdays. The article you referenced mentions psuedocontext so I thought I'd throw this everyone's way: http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?cat=89. I particularly like the one about the piano.

Anyway, I'd be happy to offer my two cents. I studied science at the undergraduate and graduate levels. To get my degrees I had to take higher math classes that included content I did not use as part of my science work at those levels and have never used outside the "context" of the math classes I was taking. Generally, I'd say I had learned all of the math that I actually use in my work by the time I finished Algebra 2/Trig. I would guess that most people never use math in their daily lives at home or at work that goes beyond what they should have learned in Pre-Algebra.

I get the concept of taking enough of everything to keep doors open. Had I decided to pursue engineering I certainly would have been glad I took Calculus in high school. Ultimately, even though I don't use it, I still am glad I took Calculus. I like knowing things. I like being well educated.

What should the minimum be for all students? I'm going with a course that doesn't exist. If we offered a course that was a combination of the first half of Algebra 1 and the first half of Geometry I'd feel good with that being the floor.

I have to disagree with Ethan. I took calculus in high school, too, and I like knowing things, and I value being well-rounded too, BUT, calculus?! It's the types of problems that Ethan points to in Dan Meyer's blog that showcase how useless I think this was for me. After what I just said, you might be surprised to learn that I loved most of the math I took in high school. Unfortunately, though, I never really understood WHY I needed anything beyond basic algebra and geometry. I did it all dutifully and got good grades, but sadly, no one ever taught me to think mathematically. Until I was an adult, I really thought math was about solving several similar complicated equations to get the right answer--just like in school. I assumed math majors just had harder worksheets. It wasn't until I started reading popular non-fiction like Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea and The Elegant Universe, that it dawned on me that math was WAY interesting and had a theoretical side—just like biology, philosophy, literature, etc. I think most students can guess what biology, philosophy, and literature majors do—they study those subjects to discover and share what’s left to discover. But math majors? Probably just harder worksheets. When I think about the question you’ve put to us, I think about this commentary which aired in 2001 on NPR’s All Things Considered (http://www.cartalk.com/content/features/ATC/). It captures my thinking as well . . .

As for geometry—I use it quite a bit for home improvement projects. And fractions? Oh, man, have you ever tried to make just a recipe just a third larger? Not if you didn’t master fractions in fourth grade, you didn’t.

I willing tell my students that the biggest mistake I made in high school was deciding not to take calculus my senior year. I was in all advanced classes throughout high school but when I got to senior year I was told I could take calculus or double-block swimming (sports were periods at my school, and double blocking swimming meant I'd have it both days instead of just every other day). I incorrectly chose to double block swimming.

When I had to take calculus in college I was waaay behind the other kids because almost all of them had already seen calculus and I never had. It was the only class I had to repeat in college.

Do I use calculus today? Nah. But I use math all the time. Counting change, cooking, measuring how much cord I'll need for something, following the nutrition plan my trainer set up for me, comparing items at a grocery store for best value, figuring out how many gallons of paint to buy at the store to cover the surface area of a room, determining the best number of pizzas to buy for an event,...

In my classes, students must have a firm grasp or geometry/algebra to be successful because computer science is really just an applied math: they deal with logical thinking, algebraic thinking, with graphics they deal with angles and degrees, ...

In fact, this year I had a girl who wanted to take my class and tried really hard to be successful (staying after school, getting extra help, practicing at home), but when it came down to it she lacked foundation math skills that made it impossible for her to be successful in the class (it turned out she signed up for the course without meeting the math pre-req) so she had to drop the course.

Anyway, I think math is very important for our students, but I'll also argue that some CTE/arts/etc courses are a better avenue for students to try to learn foundational math skills in an applied/real-world setting instead of just taking straight up math courses. (though maybe not my CS class :) )

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