Thursday, April 04, 2013

Math In The Real World

I certainly don't agree with the drooling over the Common Core standards in this article, but the lack of math knowledge is obvious and important:
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.

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.
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.

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.

Just saying.

Read more here:


Chris A said...

Goodness gracious, a gusher of common sense. Keep carrying the flame Darren. I may well read this at our next school board meeting. I believe it will fit within my "3 minutes of fame".

T-Bone said...

Preach it, brother. I can't believe all the things we have been told by our new principal (with 2 years teaching experience), who apparently had the holy spirit of teaching wisdom descend upon him when he got his principal's papers. The math teachers need to have the students write more in math class, work in groups, and discover the math on their own. The science teachers should not tell the kids what we know about chemistry and physics, they should have them reproduce the work of Newton, Galileo, etc., and discover it themselves. As if. Long division and simplifying fractions are beyond my students (since they learned how to do them longhand once then just used calculators) but they're going to reproduce the work of history's greatest minds...sure.

Mark Miller said...

I agree that math education has been in a sad state, but it's been that way for a long time, and has only been getting worse, from what I've been hearing from mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. "Math" was more about (manual) calculation, and later pattern matching and symbol manipulation, when I was in school. The basic problem is that math is not taught for what it really is. Some ideas worth considering about it is it involves reasoning about formal relationships, and finding broadly applicable truths derived from basic principles.