Before job-seekers fill out an application for work making foam products for the aerospace industry at General Plastics Manufacturing Co. in Tacoma, Wash., they have to take a math test.No math teacher doubts that observation, what many of us doubt is the so-called cure. Having students write about math isn't a real cure. Group work isn't a cure. Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute. I wouldn't mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.
Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.
They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).
Basic middle school math, right?
But what troubles General Plastics executive Eric Hahn is that although the company considers only prospective workers who have a high school education, only one in 10 who take the test pass. And that’s not just bad luck at a single factory or in a single industry.
Instead of trying to make math "fun" or "applicable", perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification. I wonder if employers might want those traits, too, in addition to the math knowledge students might have if they demonstrated those traits while in school.