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UPDATE: Thanks very much for all the comments, which have been very helpful as I try to think this issue through. And I apologize to those of you I angered. There are several points I should have made much clearer:

First: I love math in the abstract, recognize its value, respect its practitioners, and regret very much that I'm not skilled in it and never had the great teachers with which many of you were blessed.

Second: The main reason for writing the diary was to present some possible ways to change the math curriculum so that fewer students will repeat my experience.

Third: I neglected to note a distinction between "basic arithmetic" and "simplistic arithmetic." From reading in recent years, I've learned that arithmetic in and of itself is quite a sophisticated branch of mathematics -- and one of my concerns with students' having to take algebra and geometry two or three years earlier than I did is this: They're being denied the time necessary to master important arithmetical concepts.

Fourth: As some of you have said, our school system needs to adapt some of the approaches common in Europe and Asia. And we definitely need radical changes in teacher preparation. And we need parents' reinforcing with their children how vital it is that they work hard in school. (When my son expressed discouragement about algebra last year and was having great difficulty with it, my wife and I empathized with him, but made sure to get him a tutor.) I never say he doesn't have to try his best because a subject is challenging. In fact, I've tried to communicate to him how fantastic math can be; I've encouraged him (so far without success) to participate in one of Robert Kaplan's Math Circles; once I even assembled my own little math book for him.

Finally: The country, it seems to me, would benefit from a massive overhaul in the way math and science are taught; most reform proposals merely tinker at the edges. If kids are brilliant and love those subjects (like some of your lucky children), they're okay. If they're of average intelligence, but encounter some brilliant teachers, they're okay.  What I'm struggling to envision is a way to maximize the chance that average kids with average teachers will yet discover the exhilaration in math (and science) and be able to acquire the skills and discipline that will allow them to excel. Again, your comments have been terrific and I greatly appreciate your reading and taking the time to respond.

------------------------------------------------

(Start of original diary) Another school year is under way and my son the 8th grader grouses like I used to. For example, he says: It’s a waste of time to learn algebra and geometry because I’ll never need them in the real world. And even though I’m now a parent, I have to agree with him.

The painful memory of a 9th grade algebra teacher’s assigning me extra homework over winter break remains vivid. Three years later, the same teacher refused to excuse me from algebra so I could take a special 20th century American history seminar. In general, he was a good guy, but his rigidity caused so much frustration and stress – and for what?

I never used algebra after high school and, if I had Dumbledore’s wizardry, no school (other than math-science magnets) would require it. Ditto geometry – although it was an oasis in my math Sahara: I had a 99 for the year – and calculus.
Instead, let’s require:

  1. An extra year or two of the arithmetic almost everyone will need in adulthood – when starting a small business, or simply managing a household budget. As part of the curriculum: books such as John Allen Paulos’s A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper and Steve Campbell’s Statistics You Can’t Trust. Citizens should be aware when reporters and politicians employ bogus figures either out of ignorance or malice.

          And to exercise the mind in entertaining ways: books such as Martin Gardner’s Mathematical
          Carnival: A New Round-up of Tantalizers and Puzzles from "Scientific American."

  1. A year or two of the history of mathematics. About five years ago, looking through old paperbacks on sale for 50 cents at the local library, I saw Men of Mathematics, by E. T. Bell. Grumbling to myself "I really should learn about this stuff," I bought it.

          And my goodness: what a revelation! I’ve since learned that Mr. Bell is occasionally inaccurate,
          but he so brings the mathematicians to life. They’re extraordinary people, their careers exciting,
          their discoveries thrilling.

          I had no more an idea of this extraordinary intellectual tradition than do middle and high
          schoolers today. Undoubtedly it would inspire many students to learn the math for themselves;
          and for them, there would be algebra, geometry, and calculus electives. And with motivated
          students, teachers wouldn’t need to present the material in the current mind-numbing way,
          with endless sets of dull problems filling a cinder-block tome containing graphically
          repellent pages dense with small type.

  1. As part of history-of-mathematics courses, discussion of the scientific accomplishments particular kinds of math have made possible: medical breakthroughs, super-fast computers, movie special effects, the Hubble telescope, etc. Math’s ultimate products are not dismal textbooks, but glorious and very cool achievements emblematic of our species at its pinnacle.
  1.  An overview of how the world economy and financial institutions large and small function and interact with one another and other actors in society – in fact, not just in theory, and illegally as well as legally. I’m not talking about some watered-down version of model-heavy traditional economics; the current recession demonstrates the catastrophic limits of models that rely on idealized – rather than actual, often messy – human behavior. Instead, students desperately need insights into how math, both complicated and relatively simple, facilitates both the best and the worst in world finance, with profound consequences for all of us. The most effective means to accomplishing that: the clear and engaging writings of David Leonhardt, Michael Lewis, Matt Taibbi, and others.

I’ll close with a more general comment, then a query. It amazes me that my son’s overall classroom experience – aside from frills such as Macs and smart-boards – is essentially identical to mine of 40-plus years ago. To science fiction aficionados who may be reading this: Could you recommend sf novels and stories that depict truly revolutionary approaches to education that are, well, light years ahead of ours?

Originally posted to AHPaul on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 06:51 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  John Varley has some ideas... (0+ / 0-)

      Though most are incidental to his main themes and plots...

      I recall that he has tutors for younger children - adults who, through cloning and memory implants and/or surgery regress to childa age and personally interact with students in order to teach them about life...

      DFooK

      If you're in trouble or hurt or need--go to poor people. They're the only ones that'll help--the only ones.

      by deepfish on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:00:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Loathsome diary. YOU are the reason (10+ / 0-)

      US mathematics scores are so low---parents who don't know math, and who think it is useless.
      Imagine someone who knows zip about American history lecturing us on how useless the study of history is.
      I'm not going to tell you what algebra is good for, because you obviously don't want to know.

      Want to know how to improve math education?
      Get rid of the calculators.
      I believe calculators are introduced in grade 3 now.
      At the earliest, they should  be used in 6th or 7th grade and ONLY for science modules, not for mathematics per se.

        •  That's what the tip jar is for, IMO. (0+ / 0-)

          I don't do that often.

        •  The diary has its faults, (6+ / 0-)

          teaching kids simple arithmetic and giving up won't get us the people with the skills we need and the skills that have changed the world in the last three or four decades.  But getting rid of calculators is hardly the answer -- learning to add and subtract isn't learning mathematics, and making kids spend time just doing that is why kids hate mathematics and don't pursue it into the areas that are both interesting and often at the cutting edge of practicality.  All that drill folks seem to love inflicting on kids is what makes them hate a discipline that is intrinsically beautiful and fun.

          For a view that complement's the diarist's, but is very different in its valuing of the worth of doing any math other than simple arithmetic, I recommend a book by Paul Lockhart (a Ph.D. in math, former professor at Brown and elsewhere, and now teacher of math to kids from grade school to college-level), called A Mathematician's Lament.  See http://tinyurl.com/... .  It's a powerful brief for trying to teach kids how math is fun and beautiful, not just how to balance their check books (if anybody still even does that).

          •  I didn't say to get rid of calculators completely (0+ / 0-)

            I said they need to be removed from math education until rather late.  The problem is that when students don't work out problems by themselves, their understanding lags. Calculators do far more than arithmetic, by the way. Many high school math courses are taught in the following manner: a new type of problem is introduced; then, possibly after some explanation, the students are taught how to use their calculator to find the answer. At the end of this process, they know NOTHING. Many can't even multiply an integer by 100 without a calculator.
            As I said, I approve of using calculators in science classes from an earlier age.

            I actually think that part of learning to do mathematics is learning to tolerate a state of emotional ennui. It's great to be excited, but excitement can get in the way of carrying things out accurately. MOST of the time, math is going to be a bit tedious. Learning how to do things that are important but not always fun is important, IMO.
            Yes, get students excited about big ideas, new ideas, but also teach them the mental discipline of carrying out a project that is not exciting at the moment.

            •  I disagree with this part, that (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              rmx2630, Jane Lew

              math requires "learning to tolerate a state of emotional ennui."  I suspect you think this because you didn't have good math teachers.  

              •  I had great math teachers. I'm a mathematician (0+ / 0-)

                now, so I  do now what I'm talking about.
                Even in higher math, there can be a great deal of tedious calculation. It does not help to be excited when you are doing this; you need a dispassionate mind state.

                •  In response to this and your comment below, (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  BoringDem, ccasas

                  I don't really think that you can be doing math without thinking that, in the process or at the end, is something neat, something fun, something useful, if you're lucky, something beautiful and new.  Sure, there may be some boredom on the way, but I think that kids subjected to years, yes years!, of arithmetic drill, however, are either oppressed, because they have troubles and aren't given any incentive for proceeding, or are bored because it was incredibly wasted time.  (What I wouldn't have given in fourth or fifth grade to be started on Algebra and Geometry, the way my elder son was, being shown problems that were really exciting -- instead we did lots and lots of "word problems" -- yecch!).

                  I recommended Paul Lockhart's book, and you ought at least to consider it.  Here's the nickel version, http://www.maa.org/... , but the book's better.  I recommend it because I had a kid at the school where Paul began to teach ten years ago, and my kid felt defeated by math because he wasn't very good at calculation, and he was sinking into the remedial level of classes.  Then in 7th and 8th grades, he had Paul, who made the kids understand what was a good problem and what was a good solution, and who made my kid understand what math was.  And I think it saved my kid from hating mathematics, and, more importantly, saved him as a thinker.  Teaching what math is, which is not just calculation as I suspect you know, is really important, I think.      

                  •  Is it really an issue that kids hate drill or (0+ / 0-)

                    are not good at calculation and therefore lose interest in math? I have never heard that---not once---yet I've heard the complaint that algebra was the place where someone started to hate math thousands of times.
                    I'm sure there are numbers on the subject; I do not believe your contention that excessive drills are causing kids to lose interest in mathematics. If i'm wrong, I'll be happy to see some numbers.
                    The place for drills, btw, is much earlier than 7th grade. In my experience with kids, those under 10 can really love the challenge of carrying out arithmetic calculations far more than those  a little older.
                    Younger kids have a great capacity for repetition and drill. Heck, they will watch the same movie 100 days in a row.

                    •   I think that you're missing the question -- (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Jane Lew

                      why is it that so many kids in this country turn out to relate that they were "not good at calculation and therefore [lost] interest in math?"  Are so many of us here genetically inferior?   I think many people turn out to be "not good at" stuff they don't spend much time on because they find it boring.  They get orders to do stuff, and nobody much explains why it's worth doing.  You're right that the more talented kids find it easy, and therefore rewarding, and only fall out later when, once again, nobody troubles to explain to them why it's worth keeping on.  (And, if you remember being a kid, stuff like, "it'll be good for you when you grow up, so just do it" does not amount to a credible explanation.)  

                      So I'm afraid that drill without more -- the "Just eat your vegetables" of mathematics -- has a real downside.  Sure you've got to learn that stuff -- but learning with a goal is so, so much easier than learning because you're told to "learn, damn it!"  And by far the best goal for a kid is that it's fun.  This isn't inconsistent with drill -- it's a necessary precondition for successful drill.  

                      I might add that most of the people who I know who gave up on math at an early age were incredibly intelligent girls, who became incredibly intelligent women.  No reason they gave up except they didn't see the point, as near as I can tell.  

                      •  Still don't agree. (0+ / 0-)

                        I KNOW that algebra is the main sticking point in mathematics development. I know that from talking to people who are not in college who tell me that, and from teaching college students whose primary reason for failure is poor algebra skills. This is true even calculus; actually it's particularly true in calculus. Poor calculation skills are far more in evidence now than they were 10 or more years ago, and the obvious culprit is overuse of calculators.
                        Do you really think that 7-9 year olds are looking to know why they have to do something? Doesn't that usually come later? I know that kids need lots of drill in arithmetic. This doesn't really contradict what you're saying, because I agree that they need to learn concepts, too. What I'm saying is that you have identified excessive drills as one of the major problems with math education. I see zero evidence of that, and at the college level, I see  that kids whose arithmetic skills are so poor its clear they have a deficit of skills practice.
                        I would be VERY surprised if there are more arithmetic drills in elementary school than there were 20 or 30 years ago.

                        In order to show your point, you have to show two things: First, that there are more drills now than in the past; second, that excessive drills are a significant reason that people leave mathematics.

                        Lastly, it's a bit sexist to say it, but my experience is that girls are often better at arithmetic than boys, which makes me doubt that as the reason they leave math.

                        •  To clarify, (0+ / 0-)

                          I think what you are saying is that some kids begin to hate math because they are not given a reason for the drills they are required to do. Suppose you're right, this doesn't mean to cut back on drills.
                          A teacher who can convey concepts will also have students doing drills; the problem is that there are many elementary school teacher who cannot even do arithmetic  teaching these essential skills to children.

                          •  No, it's certainly helpful to learn (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Jane Lew

                            arithmetic and nobody said never drill.  But people, I think, learn faster and better when they know there's a rewarding reason to.  I think there's just too little attention to showing kids the pleasure of figuring stuff out.  But just give Lockhart's book a chance -- after all, he teaches little kids and does math research both.  I don't think you'll buy everything he says, maybe even not much of it.  But it's worth reading, doesn't take much time, and a mathematician ought to appreciate it.  And my younger, less mathematical, kid is the kid on page 76 (book), page 21-22 (paper).

                          •  Ok, Thanks for the discussion,. (0+ / 0-)

                            I don't think we're that far apart in viewpoint.
                            Last point.
                            There are specific arithmetic skills whose mastery is essential to learning higher math, starting with algebra.
                            For example, finding least common multiples by using prime factorization: without understanding this method  with numbers, students can't understand how to add fractions with variable expressions. Yet many college freshman are just horrible at this very basic skill.
                            From talking to them, I have learned that some  haven't used the skill since about 7th grade, when almost all calculations started being done by calculator.
                            So their problem has absolutely nothing to do with  too much or too little drill, but derives from misuse of calculators in math courses.

                        •  You ask: "Do you really think that 7-9 year olds (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          deepfish, Jane Lew

                          are looking to know why they have to do something?"  

                          Of course.  They hate doing stuff just because some grownup told them to.  A two-three year old will keep asking why he/she has to do something.  Certainly mine did.

                          "Doesn't that usually come later?"

                          No, it comes earlier.

                          I guess I think this is the fundamental flaw in your approach to getting more kids to stay in mathematics.  

                          •  Sorry, I'm not talking about what kids need (2+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            David in NY, The Donut

                            to stay in mathematics; I'm talking about what they need to be able to do mathematics. They NEED those drills, and it's better to do that when they are young.
                            I do know what people tell me about the reason they leave mathematics, and as I said before, I have NEVER heard that it was because of excessive arithmetic drills, not once---and that's out of conversations with thousands of people. I strongly disagree with your hypothesis, and I don't even believe that arithmetic drills are as big a part of early math curriculum as they used to be (I do know something about early math ed, btw, just not as much as other subjects). I do agree that kids need teachers who teach concepts; no argument there.

                            I'll take a look at this guy Lockhart later, but when the problem now is that many grade school teachers aren't even competent at doing arithmetic themselves, it's a bit of a pipe dream to look for teachers who can do better at teaching concepts. That wont' happen without higher salaries, IMO.

                          •  Your last paragraph (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            BoringDem

                            we can really agree on.  In my kids' (private) school, starting in second grade, math was taught separately, often by teachers who were teaching high school classes through calculus.  This made a difference.

          •  By the way, I don't know a lot about early (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            coolsub, Azazello

            math education, but I think that you are off base in saying their are too many drills. I do not think that is the case at all---probably they don't get ENOUGH drill in arithmetic in the early grades.
            I have actually never met an adult who says he or she began to hate math because there were too many drills in elementary school. Almost always, they blame a particular course, usually algebra, but sometimes geometry, precalculus or calculus, for ruining their love of mathematics. Usually, they blame the teacher. They're probably right, because many math teachers at the middle and high school level are awful.

            I strongly believe that arithmetic drills are essential to brain development and prepare the student for higher math, just as playing scales in music is important for learning to play complete pieces of music.

          •  Thanks very much for recommending the book (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            sberel, Ms Citizen

            I've just ordered it.

            Reading the comments so far has been stimulating. I'd meant the diary to be pro-math in tone -- urging educators to put much more emphasis on how amazing math is, etc. And that the more the math curriculum could turn kids on, the more kids would want to learn higher math. I'm curious to find out Dr. Lockhart's approach.

            I myself lament my poor math aptitude and love to read books for the layman such as one I finished recently: "A Tour of the Calculus," by David Berlinksi. But when I tried to teach myself algebra and then to help my son, it made matters worse, so we went -- with some success -- the tutor route.

            Thanks again!

            •  berlinski, heh. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              glower

              well, as long as he sticks to math, don't listen to him on evolution.  that should go without saying, but he's promoted by the ID crowd.

              Thank you for the update.  I was really pissed by the original diary as drafted.

              What is the most loving thing I can do, right now? Rev Dr Mary Harrington

              by sberel on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:05:16 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  I'm torn here. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sberel, BoringDem, BachFan

        I fully agree with you on all your essential points --

        but I am disinclined to approve of your tone.

        Not usually a good method to educate the ignorant. (I use the word "ignorant" in its non-pejorative definition, as pertaining simply to a lack of knowledge or understanding...)

        I sure wish my government gave me as much privacy as they demand I give them.

        by Daddy Bartholomew on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:20:26 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  How about ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Daddy Bartholomew

        getting rid of all the problems that would make you want a calculator, instead? I have in mind here problems like in Geometry class, where the calculator just doesn't come into play.

        •  Not sure what you mean. There is NO need for a (6+ / 0-)

          calculator in elementary school mathematics courses.
          Only when logarithms, exponents and trigonometric functions are used can a calculator help.
          Even then, it would be better pedagogy to use tables.
          A student who punches a button may have NO understanding of what he's doing, but if he uses a table, he will be exposed to patterns that help him understand the functions.
          Don't get me started on graphing calculators, either.

          You have to understand that  calculators are NOT intended to be aids in the classroom; they are designed to do everything a student needs so that he doesn't need to learn anything.

      •  loathsome takedown of a sincere diary (6+ / 0-)

        Author is honest - check.
        Author makes concrete suggestions for what s/he believes will improve.

        You're so way off base id HR your response if I could.

    •  How about teach all the stuff you suggest, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, Nespolo

      AND math, algebra, trig, calc, geometry, etc.etc.?  Your approach is extremely short-sighted, and that type of mindset is what is damaging our already piss-poor educational system.

      We got to the moon with slide rules and computers with less power than your current cell phone.  How did we do that?  Math and Science education.  Just the other day, someone here was wondering what her 9-year old should study, because he had decided he wanted to be a computer game designer.  She wanted him to do only those things which would further his "career".  Damn, the kid was NINE years old.  She got a whole lot of what-for from everybody, to be sure.

      Kids need to learn as much of everything as we can cram down their gullets.  Education IS different from 40 years ago.  The pace of change is much faster, science changes daily.  Why do you want to handicap your kid at this stage?

      "And God separated the light from the dark, and did two loads of laundry"

      by Fiddlegirl on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:49:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm pretty amazed at the discussion generated (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MnplsLiberal

      here. I teach my kids at home (hopefully not a permanent thing but there are major issues here) and find these suggestions to be excellent. I hated Math in school because my teachers didn't make the subject 'live and breathe' for me. I learned best when given real-world problems to solve and used the skills I'd been taught to do it.

      Making math more pragmatic for students is one of the best things we could do, imho. I teach my kids about banking, credit cards (the NY Times has an excellent lesson plan on this), and investments. Yes, they need to know basic algebra and basic geometry, but they also need these skills that most of my generation was never taught.

      Thanks for these ideas!

      Progressives are liberals who DO SOMETHING about it.

      by angstall on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 10:11:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's all about the teacher (11+ / 0-)

    A good math teacher has to be three things: passionate about math, knowledgeable about math, and able to convey his knowledge to children.  

    Hard to find someone with all of these things.

    I was a liberal arts person all the way, but I took calculus in college just to say I could and did.  I had to drop out of the first class I took; I felt like I was way over my head.  Not to be daunted, I tried again with a different teacher and got a B+.

    He was this crazy guy but the man knew how to explain math.  It's like a gift from Heaven, the ability to do that.

    As an additional comment, my kids are learning the same math I did, only three grades earlier...

    I blog about my daughter with autism at her website

    by coquiero on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 06:58:36 AM PDT

  •  Statistics. (16+ / 0-)

    When I was teaching Psychology 101 face-to-face, I inserted a 90-minute lecture on statistics.  Because you can't really understand the science of psychology without statistics.  Nor can you keep the news media from lying to you without knowing statistics.

    I could only go over just a few basics--correlation, the normal curve, means/medians/modes; samples and populations; graphs and maps and how they can be misused.  When I run into my former students in the community, they typically tell me that the statistics lecture was the best thing we did all semester, and that they use this information to make sense of the world every day.

    To say my fate is not tied to your fate is like saying, "Your end of the boat is sinking."--Hugh Downs

    by Dar Nirron on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:01:07 AM PDT

    •  Probably Even More Important Today (6+ / 0-)

      The math curriculum would probably do well to substitute statistics for calculus for any general track.  Anybody would find statistics useful in understanding general business, economics, manufacturing, warranties, insurance and the lotteries and casinos.  Even better, it typically doesn't require much more than a knowledge of fractions and how to manipulate numbers.  Once somebody is taught fractions and decimal places, they can readily go on to learn about probability and statistics.  Even better, many of the early stories about how the science was developed are amusing and can help draw the new students in.  What more could one want?

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:08:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good approach . . . probably would (0+ / 0-)

      work at Sunday School as well, you know, to illustrate (using oreos as a visual aid, maybe) the difference between 6,000 and 2,000,000,000 years and thus prove why evolution is false (for example, there's no way to fit 2,000,000,000 oreos into the average church .. . .)

    •  God, yes. (6+ / 0-)

      I'm not even all that well versed in statistics, but even I can see the appalling innumeracy in the news media.

      "Such-and-so is the fastest-growing --" wait a minute.  Fastest growing could mean that you're going from one to three, for a 200% increase.  But how significant is adding two members?

      "Most people who do X have done Y, or had Y happen to them, therefore there's a causal relationship."  Like the idea of marijuana as a "gateway drug."  Sure, most people who live on heroin and coke have also tried pot.  But how many people who have tried pot have then gone on to the harder stuff?  This is the one that gives rise to the hilarious "Dangers of Bread," or "Powerful chemical H2O can kill."

      Innumeracy is a HUGE problem.

    •  Agree... statistics and probability... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, sberel, Dar Nirron

      ...could be part of a "real world" high-school math curriculum.  However, I disagree with the diarist's view that (plane) geometry isn't used/useful.  In fact, I think it's the most important class taught in high school.
      Plane Geometry is where we learn the notion of "proof".  Something is true not because the teacher says so, or because it makes sense, or because is seems to be true when we look at a diagram.  It's true because we prove it to be true.
      Plane geometry teaches us not to (necessarily) believe the person with the loudest voice, or to assume that a picture is telling the entire story.
      You can always tell the folks who failed geometry... their arguments are random walks through a forest of hearsay, anecdotes, and wishful thinking.  (Why does Sarah Palin immediately come to mind?)  They drive me nuts.

      Don't be a DON'T-DO... Be a DO-DO!

      by godwhataklutz on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:32:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm a librarian, not a math person, (15+ / 0-)

    but I use algebra all the time.  Whenever you need to solve for an unknown quantity, that's algebra.  Take a look at this essay called "Why Do I Have to Take Algebra?"

    If I had my way, everybody would have to study the Library of Congress classification system, but that's not likely to happen! :-)

    "We *can* go back to the Dark Ages! The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin!" -- Sinclair Lewis

    by Nespolo on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:01:24 AM PDT

    •  I use it all the time too (5+ / 0-)

      and geometry. Even in stupid things, like trying to figure out if moving the furniture in a certain way will fit.

      (My couch is 84" long, the window is 5' from the corner, the other wall is 11'6", if I put the couch across the corner with the edge at the window, where will it hit on the other wall? And isn't it a lot easier to use math to figure that than move all the damn furniture only to find out it doesn't give you enough room for the chair?)

      If you understand math, you find all sorts of places it comes in handy.

      •  Actually, (0+ / 0-)

        I just move the furniture, though it drives my husband crazy!

        "We *can* go back to the Dark Ages! The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin!" -- Sinclair Lewis

        by Nespolo on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 09:53:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Depends on what it is (0+ / 0-)

          the couch is heavy, and there's a piano against that wall right now that would need to be moved.

          I don't move that unless I'm absolutely sure where I'm putting it and that it's NOT going anywhere else.

          •  Wouldn't stop me (0+ / 0-)

            The other week I rearranged the entire living room, including a pump organ!  Husband is starting to get used to it.

            "We *can* go back to the Dark Ages! The crust of learning and good manners and tolerance is so thin!" -- Sinclair Lewis

            by Nespolo on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 12:58:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Math is the world working (8+ / 0-)

    I agree with you AHPaul, schools should teach as early as possible how arithmetic and more advanced mathematics affect the world they know.  In particular, as you said, finance and statistics should not be just college elections.  If more people understood, and used, financial calculations and statistics from childhood, who knows, perhaps abusive bankers/lenders would not find so many easy marks.

  •  Europeans (12+ / 0-)

    I think it would be worth looking at how they manage to teach math in Europe. My son is currently a math grad student and T.A., and most of his fellow grad students are either Asians or Europeans. He says that the European kids all say if they'd gone to school in America they'd know nothing, because our schools are so easy and the teachers are too nice. They were all forced to perform up to very high standards, by both teachers and parents, in ways we would probably consider borderline abusive. But they LEARNED. The Germans think a US high school graduate is the equivalent of a German 8th grader when it comes to math.

    My son is considering math teaching as a career, and has gotten the kinds of evaluations from students (in classes like Calculus for Business Majors) that make it seem like he could succeed. But he's not enthusiastic about dealing with American kids, since he says even college freshman are so distracted and lazy that it feels like pissing into the wind trying to teach them anything.

    •  Curriculums (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, Nespolo

      Most European countries have national curriculums which define the targets or skills that a pupil should attain by a certain age. Schemes of work are designed to provide teaching materials to achieve these goals. You might contrast this with the "choose the book" approach that many US states seem to adopt.

      As an example, these are the requirements at Key Stage 2 (by age 11) in the English National Curriculum.

      "Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism." Sir Gerald Kaufman, British MP and son of Holocaust survivor.

      by Lib Dem FoP on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:34:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was not interested in math in high school (13+ / 0-)

    I thought I was going to be an artist. But then in college I discovered that my real interests were in economics and science. The not having studied college algebra, trig and calc hurt me then. I say we simply teach kids MORE math.

    •  it'd certainly make people a lot more logical (6+ / 0-)

      Math wasn't exactly my strong suit, especially in college, but I like it and I try to get it.

      (-2.12, -5.33)best dkos insult ever: "Compote whore." FTW!

      by terrypinder on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:43:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm reviewing everything college algebra on (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cedwyn, terrypinder

        b/c I want to be better prepared for finishing my doctorate in a couple years. It's actually amazed me how much more sense it all makes now that I know why I need to understand this function and that.

        •  I had some rotten math teachers (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Maimonides, coolsub

          my trig teacher in High School was dreadful, and probably a big reason as to why I didn't get it.

          The professor I had for Calc 1 and 2 was excellent, even if both classes were derisively called "calc for poets" by other students. I still understand how Calculus works now, because of her. I think I might send her a holiday card.

          (-2.12, -5.33)the 2012 Phenomenon is a raging cacaphony of Stupid.

          by terrypinder on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:54:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, do send her a card. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            terrypinder, Maimonides, Nespolo

            I bet it would mean a lot. I had the same math teacher from seventh grade all through high school when I was a kid in a small town. He was excellent. Not too long ago, I was home visiting and saw him at the grocery store. He recognized me even before I recognized him, even though it had been 30 years since I last sat in his class! I told him that when I am facing a math challenge, even to this day, I can still hear his voice calmly walking me throught the steps. He was obviously pleased to hear that.

            I echo the comments of others here -- a good math teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. (Now, quickly, find the average weight of all math teachers and calculate the value, based on the current value of an ounce of gold!)

  •  I did not really learn maths until university (9+ / 0-)

    My first year, I had to take -- all over again and to my great upset -- trigonometry and calculus.  

    As I was studying computer science in the dark ages of the late 1970s, as part of learning to program in machine language, I had to learn to perform mathmetical calculations in binary, octal and hexideximal.  

    However, as luck would have it, I had excellent profs and all of my math losses and problems of high school were cleared up and light shone through.  I finally 'got it'.

    Today, though I may not sit and literally solve for 'x' on a day to day basis, maths, to me, are the foundation of logical thought and have made me -- I believe, at least -- a brighter more engaged person than the dim bulb I was years ago.

    Grab a mop -- let's get to work. -- President Barack H. Obama, Leader of the Free F*ing World

    by Patty SoandSo on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:10:29 AM PDT

  •  I disagree. (11+ / 0-)

    I disgaree that the math learned in elementary school (or junoir high possibly?) won't be used in real life as an adult.  Last I remember, this is still all just the basic adding, subtraction, dividing, and multiplying.   Adults use this all the time every single day.  From purchasing goods, to budgeting, etc.  Hell, even basic time management uses elements of math.  

    As a basic example, this month I will be renovating my bathroom.  I need to know geometry and math to maximize what I can do with my budget, to know how much tile I need to purchase, to know the best way to lay the tile to cover the space, to know what size and shape the new countertop needs to be to ensure a proper fit given the walls are not necessarily flat or straight AND to know the surface area for cost and sink size, etc.    

    It's not like 8th graders are doing calculus or physics or something that is more specialized.  They are just doing basic every day math.  The PROBLEM, which I will agree with you on, is that math teaching is mostly abstract and when dealing with 3x squared = y + 2X or something, kids have a hard time understanding how that translates to real life.  It WILL, at some point, they jsut don't realize it because they are dealing with real life situations, something physical, and not meaningless Xs and Ys.

    •  Abstraction (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Garrett, Woody, BachFan, Nespolo

      Arithmetic is an abstraction too.  People need to add 2 apples and 3 apples, or 2 acres of land and 3 acres of land, but mankind did not realize that these were really just the same problem until the abstract notion of the numbers 2 and 3 came about.  Of course, this is obvious to us today, but it wasn't always.  

      Why should 5 year olds be forced to learn these useless curvy shapes that stand for the digits 0-9, why should they learn these silly little tables to add two digits, and why should they learn this boring algorithm to add two [multi-digit] numbers?  I think the real difference is that 5 year olds do things their parents tell them to, while 13 year olds are more likely to question why its relevant to life when they are learning algebra.  It doesnt help that our culture is inherently math-phobic, and everybody sees adults everyday who say that math is useless.

  •  I would think (10+ / 0-)

    ...that the same people who say they have no use for algebra are the same ones who would claim to have no use for statistics.

    At least lying with algebra isn't so easy.

  •  another view (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, mmacdDE, Daddy Bartholomew, yaque

    This is the approach to math education that I wish were the reality: http://www.maa.org/...

    Your son's right that the way math is taught today in the US, he won't need any of it. Mathematics should be training kids to look for patterns and symmetry, and to think in an organized way - as you have to when writing a proof.

    US math education just teaches kids (and college freshmen and sophomores) a cookbook how to solve some contrived problems, not how to think.

    I'm an American mathematician who's had quite a lot of experience at various European universities. While the European math educations systems are not perfect, for the most part I've seen that their approaches are not so completely cookbook like. Particularly in German Gymnasium and in former East Block countries.

    •  Gymnasium (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yaque

      It's a much easier task to teach a group of kids who are on the college track than a general population.  It's most important for parents to assert themselves at home about the kids investment in academics.  Without that, it's generally not going to happen.  There are obviously counters to this idea at every turn, but overall if parents aren't positive about the education kids are receiving, kids aren't going to be either.  

      The way I see it, the math seesaw will continue to go between discovery and rote.  It's all about the overcorrection based on dire predictions.

      Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

      by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:25:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I sort of tried to make (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sierrak9s

      a similar point to yours above, and noted there that Lockhart's paper, to which you link, is now out as a lovely and powerful, short book.  I might add, since you're aware of Lockhart, that my younger kid, no real math whiz, had him for seventh and eighth grade math (the great wasteland of math teaching, IMHO), and Paul was great.  I may be biased, since my kid is the one mentioned on pages 21-22 of Paul's paper, but my kid learned to think from Paul, and that was invaluable.

  •  Math is Money (7+ / 0-)

    I use that phrase all the time with  my kid.  

    "Math is Money."  

    He is generally favorably inclined towards math, even to the point where he says he likes it.  He's a quick calculator, so he feels right off the bat like he's going to be successful.

    Math is money.  

    I wouldn't ask science fiction fans about what math should be like.

    One thing  I tell parents about education is that all children are home schooled.  Some kids might not end up going to the building with the other kids, but all kids get their education at home.  There is simply no harm in working on the arithmetic with your kids at home.  Sign your kid up for Sylvan or Kumon.  Look into math club opportunities if your kid is open to that.  Get involved in activities where there is likely to be a group more interested in academics.  

    Get some books and videos and do a self study on the history of math.  It's a fascinating and cross cultural investigation.  

    I don't like to hear the kind of hopelessness that I read here.  It's our job as parents to fill in gaps that we might see at school.  We can work with the schools to a certain extent, but we are ultimately responsible for their work at school.  Most importantly, we are definitely responsible for their attitude towards school.  There is no way around that.  

    Don't be helpless.

    Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

    by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:22:11 AM PDT

    •  in elementary school (0+ / 0-)

      math was my favorite subject, largely just because the rest of the day bored me to tears.  then again, i also did logic problems for fun...hahaha.

      The fights that matter have never been waged based on probability of success.
      Single payer now!

      by Cedwyn on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:01:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You might like (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cedwyn

        Paul Lockhart's "A Mathematician's Lament" as well (see my comments above).  In a short version as a paper in theano's comment above, or the book version (which I really liked) in the link in my first comment.

      •  In my local school district (0+ / 0-)

        the elementary students used to be moved around for math so that they were grouped with kids of similar abilities. This allowed the kids who really "got" it to move forward quickly and stay interested, while the kids who had more difficulties took it slower and got the help they needed. To me, this seems like the right approach, and I'm glad that my own children were in school while this was the policy. They both did very well in math.

        Recently, the curriculum and policy has changed. Now, all groups are mixed together, and the teacher has to somehow find a way to teach students with all abilities at once. I know some teachers are able to do this, but it is draining! It must be very hard to keep some kids challenged and interested without losing those who are falling behind. I certainly don't understand the logic of this system.  If someone here could explain it to me, I'd be happy to learn more as to why this is a good idea.

        •  My older kid had the good (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          coolsub

          and expensive, fortune to attend a school where they made special arrangements for him to be in the fourth grade math class in third, the seventh in fifth, etc.  It was wonderful.  

          The downside is for the kids at the lower end, who are as a rule subjected to interminable, boring drill with little incentive to keep persevering.  I had one of these kids too, who was saved by a teacher who taught him the interesting stuff about math, which kept him going.  He's not going to be a professional mathematician, like my elder, but he's not a damaged thinker, either.  

          Anyway, I agree with you pretty much, but with the reservation that even the slower kids can be given reasons to find math interesting by a teacher who think's that's his/her job.

  •  In Asia, the kids just bite the bullet (6+ / 0-)

    and learn this stuff.

    And they're totally kicking our asses now, economically at least . . . .

    (bet we'd still beat them in basketball and american football, tho!)

    •  Chinese parents (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, BachFan, Nespolo, Azazello

      Through my kid's involvement in chess, I get a lot of chances to talk with Chinese families.  

      There is simply a different idea about how kids should be treated.  

      I used the word 'motivation' one time when I was talking with a Chinese Dad.  He corrected me quickly and said, "No motivation, you just do it."

      Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

      by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:27:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        otto, BachFan

        I told my kids that their first job was school. Their second job was helping to take care of the home, because we all live here and we all should help.

        Anything after that was if they had time. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't. If it impacted their schoolwork, it got dropped.

        Homework was THEIR responsibility, but if they needed help I would give it. I was willing to proof papers, suggest edits, check homework, clarify things (where I could) and help them study for tests.

        There wasn't any 'motivation' - it was expected and REQUIRED that they go to school. Just like they'd be expected and required to get a job when they graduated.

        They weren't required to kill themselves with work, but they WERE required to do their best, and give it their best effort. Whether they 'liked' it wasn't the issue. They had plenty of other things they 'liked', and some of them were school related.

        The world wasn't going to be all fun when they got older, and every job has parts you don't particularly like, so they might as well learn it early.

        •  Liking it (0+ / 0-)

          There are a lot of different ways to go about it.

          In general, a sense of wonder and interest at everything is a great asset to have.  My kid comes home with a lot of happiness and interest in the things he's learning at school.  

          It wasn't always that way.  

          Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

          by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:54:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Is Anyone Here an Engineer? (10+ / 0-)

    I guess not from this diary and these comments.

    How the hell can you know whether you will use a particular type or branch of math later on in life when you are in K - 12?

    This kind of math ignorance is incredibly damaging to the U.S. Instead of an education system that supports math and science that will help blossom the next generation's scientists, engineers, and researchers, we have this "what use is math" mentality.

    Where will the next Einstein come from that will bring us technologies to help battle climate change? Where will the next researcher come from that puts an end to Alzheimers? Where will the industrial engineer come from who will achieve the breakthroughs necessary for new energy sources?

    I guess we'll have millions of sociologists and maybe a few statisticians to tell us why we don't have engineers.

    Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear. ~William E. Gladstone, 1866

    by absdoggy on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:30:05 AM PDT

    •  This is America. Stupid is a badge of honor (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cedwyn, BachFan, play jurist, Azazello

      when it comes to math and science.

    •  I r an ingeneur (4+ / 0-)

      I have a BSEE, which involves a fair amount of math beyond the basic 3 semesters (15 credits) of a traditional college calculus sequence. You can't get through any engineering program without a solid foundation in mathematics.

      However, I've discussed this with a number of engineers, and nobody uses that much math on the job beyond some basic (really basic) algebra or geometry (like the definitions of parallel and perpendicular and the Pythagorean Theorem). You can design a PC without knowing much more than arithmetic and a little Boolean algebra (which is what philosophy departments call "Symbolic Logic"). You can learn Boolean algebra in a couple of days, math background or not.

      Somebody will chime in and say "I'm an engineer and I use advanced calculus everyday" (reminds me of "I am a Protestant ..." in The Meaning of Life). I'm sure there have to be engineers somewhere that do that - I've just never met them, and I used to call on 5 or 10 different engineers every day.

      BUT

      Almost all of the concepts engineers use daily are based on understanding the science of their field and the mathematics that underlie it - you need to go through all of the math education to understand how to distill the science down to what you need to deal with a particular problem and understand the inter-relationships between the things that are going on. There isn't any way around that, and following the prescription of this diary is a way to make sure people understand even less of their culture (which is heavily technology-based) than they do now.

      Math is the descriptive language in which the gospels of science and engineering are written.

      My daughter (hates math and science) took a college level "Physics for Poets" course her last year of high school which was completely non-mathematical. I helped her with it. Ironically, physics is much more difficult to understand without math - a non-calculus-based but still mathematical physics course would have been much easier.

      Je suis Marxiste, tendance Groucho

      by badger on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 09:04:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm sorry but this diary is wrong-headed (5+ / 0-)

    So a lot of adults never use algebra and geometry.  A lot of education is that way.  Why teach it?  Because if they enter into a discipline at a later educational stage that builds on these concepts, they already have familiarity in their long term memory.  You give students the freedom to pursue the sciences, engineering or medicine by teaching these ideas.

    I have done a lot of work with premedical students working to master their basic sciences.  In the physical sciences, chemistry has its basis in physics and the biological sciences are on a foundation of the physical sciences.  In physics, you use algebraic expressions to model the changes that physical systems undergo.  If a student has a good foundation in math, they can understand physical formulas like a language and learn to work within the field of reference of physics in an intuitive conceptual way.  Students who don't have a good foundation struggle much more with physics.

    So much of human endeavor depends on algebra and geometry that it is actually a somewhat ridiculous discussion to have about whether middle schoolers should be taught it.  Sure, if your child becomes a lawyer or a realtor, they may never use it, but you don't want them to lose the freedom to ever pursue science, engineering, or medicine.

    •  Even more basic (4+ / 0-)

      Education should seek to teach an interest in understanding the world.

      Just as you can't understand the world without a basic grasp of social studies, or a basic grasp of English (or whatever your language is), you can't understand the world without the ability to grasp the mathematical concepts.

      Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

      by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:39:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  exactly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        otto, Nespolo

        Education should seek to teach an interest in understanding the world.

        and more importantly, education is about learning how to learn.  i know that sounds trite, but i'm serious.  i'm also huge on "why," like, it is so much easier to get a concept if you can relate it to something.

        The fights that matter have never been waged based on probability of success.
        Single payer now!

        by Cedwyn on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:05:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It is a window into the mind (6+ / 0-)

    College admission boards tend to look at Students who grasp higher level math problems and concepts as students who are more likely to succeed in classes that require abstract thought.  

  •  Calc wasn't offered in my HS (7+ / 0-)

    A group of us begged the head of the math dept to get us calculus textbooks and help us, because we knew we'd be behind in college without it.  He declined, telling us that we weren't going to college anyway because we weren't that smart.

    Same guy used to answer questions from girls in his class with, "Come up here and sit on my lap and I'll tell you, honey."

    This was in the early 80's, not the early 50's, by the way.

    And yeah -- it really did hurt my career as a Harvard undergrad.  (no kidding)

    •  i know you're not kidding (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BachFan, Nespolo, sierrak9s

      i feel terrible for anybody whose first exposure to calculus is in college and i only needed the "calculus is your friend" class for my requirements.  

      i busted my ass SO hard, like i never worked harder in high school, to barely get a C in calculus.  but taking bonehead calc in college was very easy because of it.  of course, my high school calc teacher was AWESOME.

      The fights that matter have never been waged based on probability of success.
      Single payer now!

      by Cedwyn on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:09:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I vote against calculus in high school (0+ / 0-)

      Calculus is the first course in mathematical "analysis".  It doesn't really have a place in high-school.  Instead, students can/should learn about infinite sequences and the notion of "limit".
      When I went to high school, the physics teacher needed to introduce derivatives of polynomial functions, which can be easily included into a discussion of "limit".  But that's really as far as it needs to go.
      When I went to college, the professors didn't want students to have had any exposure to calculus, because they assumed that the high school taught it as an engineering course (i.e. emphasis on getting the right answer) rather than as a mathematics course.

      Don't be a DON'T-DO... Be a DO-DO!

      by godwhataklutz on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:42:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My daughter teaches h.s. algebra and geometry. (5+ / 0-)

    She's learned all kinds of new ways to teach it, using games and music etc., and the results have been very encouraging.  Her kids tell her it is the first time they ever "got it" and the first time they ever thought math was "fun".  I think all math is important because it exercises problem solving skills and brain cells, useful throughout life.  Also there is a big connection to appreciation of music.  My daughter is also a musician and plays guitar and sings with a band on the weekends.  
     Husband and another daughter are CPAs, so we've got math appreciation all over the place in our family.

  •  and probability/lottery (5+ / 0-)

    Examples:

    1. the bf insists that if someone puts a lot of money into a slot machine and doesn't win and gets up, then HE will win because the machine is "due." He's not won yet from what I've seen.
    1. I've known several people (including the bf) who play the same lottery number insiting that eventually, their number would come up. And when they don't play the number comes up, apparently. Oh honey, it don't work that way, and it's your cognitive bias at work.
    1. People who buy more then one powerball ticket at a time thinking that increases your odds. It doesn't.

    Luckily, we have seperate accounts.

    (-2.12, -5.33)best dkos insult ever: "Compote whore." FTW!

    by terrypinder on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:42:02 AM PDT

    •  I still want to buy a ticket (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mmacdDE, BachFan, sierrak9s

      We just live for the off chance that it might work.

      The thinking you are describing is very superstitious.  Even if someone has an understanding of the mathematical probability, it still may not prevent them from participating.  

      We love to have our superstitions.  I do my best to avoid any and all superstitions, because magical thinking gets us into so much trouble, as you describe above.

      Post commentshere. It's Patients First, and it's unmoderated.

      by otto on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 07:44:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Waidaminnit. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cedwyn

      Buying more than one powerball ticket doesn't increase your odds?  You mean more than one with the same number, or buying two different numbers?

      Because it seems to me that buying two different numbers should increase your odds, but see above, I'm pretty innumerate myself.  (Also, I never ever ever play state-sponsored lotteries, ever, so I may not understand how it works.)

    •  I play slots this way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sierrak9s

      I find a machine. I put in a set amount of money (usually $5 or $10) and then I leave. If I've won, great. If I've lost, it's only that amount.

      Then I find another machine and do the same thing.

      I have a set amount I'm prepared to lose. If I win 5 times that amount, I quit. That rarely happens.

      I do the same thing with any game in a casino. I figure it's entertainment, and I always assume I'll lose whatever amount I've decided I'll play.

      I rarely buy lottery tickets. If I do, usually I let the machine pick the numbers. Sometimes I'll buy two tickets and let the machine pick one and I'll pick the others. I rarely win at that, too.

      But I always assume I'm going to lose, and don't spend more than I can afford to lose.

      •  I never play slots (0+ / 0-)

        But I used to spend a LOT of time in Reno, and I would often make enough money at the craps table to pay for my trip.

        But your slots strategy is pretty much how I would play craps, as well.  I have a certain "budget."  When that's gone, it's gone.  Alternatively, if I make it back, that amount goes in my pocket and now I'm only playing with "house money."  When the "house money" is gone, I make the decision all over again whether to play with my own budgeted money or not.

        About half the time, I made money.  About a quarter of the time, I broke even, and left with my original budgeted funds in my pocket.  Lost the budgeted funds about a quarter of the time.  Roughly speaking.

        I love craps.

        •  Craps really does have the best odds (0+ / 0-)

          If you learn how the bets are paid, you can usually at least break even. It really is all probability, and it doesn't take a lot of math to figure odds on dice rolls.

          What you do have to learn is NOT to predicate your bet on what the LAST roll was.

          It also usually takes more brainpower than I want expend in the casino, and requires that I stay completely sober.

          Not likely...

          Slots don't require any real thought, other than counting how much money I've put in the machine so far.

  •  There is a Quantitative Literacy movement (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jrooth, Nespolo, sierrak9s, Azazello

    going on in higher ed. with the goal of preparing students for math in context.  Some really interesting "math across the curriculum" initiatives are going on across the country.  I think this is in line with your first idea.

    I disagree, however, about getting rid of algebra, geometry...  These are foundational. Economics IS applied calculus.  I think all students benefit from the reasoning exercises that are fundamental to math courses.  

    I'll agree that math is not always (often?) taught well, but that is a different issue.

  •  How can you not use algebra? (7+ / 0-)

    Even figuring out how long it will take to get to work day-to-day requires analysis of unknown variables and a working knowledge of how numbers interact.  There is no difference at all between a - b = c and 8:15 - 8:00 = :15.  If you think you don't use algebra, you need to have it explained to you better.

    Hello, America's skullfucked, pulverized corpse. Welcome to the end times. -Tycho Brahe No, not that Tycho Brahe.

    by Tm3 on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 08:20:45 AM PDT

  •  My eight year old daughter (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel

    loves math, and she understands it better than I do. I had a bad math education program (that is no longer used) back in grade school. My daughter goes to a Montessori school.
    If she is bored at home she often says "give me a math problem". Mr Greycat (who is good at math) taught her to convert decimal numbers to binary, add them, then convert them back to see if she had done it right. She finds this very entertaining.
    My point, besides bragging about my daughter, is that math can be taught poorly or taught well. And, some learners will be enthusiastic while others will find it boring. I'm fairly sure this is true of all subjects, even history.

    •  My son (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sberel, greycat

      used to say "give me a math problem" not only when he was bored but if there was something emotionally challenging going on -- he preferred the certainty of the math to the problems of interaction with people.  He is now a PhD candidate at MIT.  

      I don't know what your daughter's school situation will be later, but there is a national program called Mathcounts in the middle school years that concentrates on problem solving and is great for kids.  You might see if the schools have it -- those years tend to be particularly challenging.  

      •  Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        David in NY

        Mathcounts looks like something she would love. I'm sure the certainty of math is part of the appeal. The other day she had this dreamy look on her face and said "mom, do you know what a prime number is?" I guess there isn't much emotional risk in falling in love with prime numbers.

        •  A girl after my own heart. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          greycat

          https://mathcounts.org  Here's the Mathcounts site.  It does involve competition, so that can be a consideration for some kids, though sounds like your daughter would do fine.  Also requires a teacher/parent coach at the school or in the area.  My older boy loved it, finished in the top four in the state then got to go to Washington DC for the finals.  Went on to do competitions in high school and college, but they aren't the thing for every mathematically inclined kid.

          You and your husband might also like to look at Paul Lockhart's book which I've given links to above.  

  •  I'm tempted to write a parallel diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel

    arguing that we shouldn't bother teaching kids any history beyond current events.  After all, it's perfectly possible to go through life without using any knowledge of history whatsoever.

    Needless to say, I disagree.  Mathematical literacy beyond simple arithmetic is as important to one's ability to participate in a democratic society as historical knowledge is.

    "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

    by jrooth on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 12:30:50 PM PDT

  •  Late to this conversation, but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel

    Math education needs to be more than basic arithmetic for anyone to hold a job now. Contractors doing estimating must know geometry and some trigonometry. Imagine estimating the volume of a kidney shaped pool so that you know the amount of earth to be excavated and the amount of concrete to be poured. Competition now demands accurate estimating to bring estimates in as closely as possible to reality. Just one example.

    I talked recently to a contractor who has figured an algorithm in excel to estimate the exact number of nails used based on board feet and averages for differing loads and resulting Simpson ties and board sizes. Not simple!

    We need, imho a whole curriculum to teach math to trades students--psi and pipe length to plumbers, material calculations, estimates of volumes and time to excavate or fill, etc. This would involve education at the least to the level of trigonometry, but could be taught very practically. Anymore, if you don't know this stuff you will fail in the trades businesses.

    Yes we did, yes we will. President Obama

    by marketgeek on Thu Oct 29, 2009 at 06:57:57 PM PDT

  •  I agree with the many who've said (0+ / 0-)

    you got a lot of this backwards.

    First, arithmetic has the same relation to math that spelling does to creative writing.

    Second, math is about beauty, and should be taught for the same reasons we teach art and music, even to people who will never paint or sing.

    Third, calculators should be introduced as early as possible.  The calculations themselves are not the point, it's knowing WHICH calculations to do that is important.

    Fourth, history of math is fascinating, but of very tangential importance; further, it can't possibly be taught to people who don't already have a strong background in math.  The standard HS curriculum (with the topics you want to drop) only brings us to about the 17th century, maybe earlier.

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