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Mathematicians Explain How to Fix U.S. Math Education

September 6, 2011

In a New York Times op-ed, Sol Garfunkel, executive director of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, and David Mumford (Brown University) indicated that different sets of mathematical skills are necessary for different careers and that America's approach to mathematics education ought to be altered to reflect this idea.

“A math curriculum that focused on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, especially the manipulation of unknown quantities,” they wrote. “But there is a world of difference between teaching ‘pure’ math, with no context, and teaching relevant problems that will lead students to appreciate how a mathematical formula models and clarifies real-world situations.”

The two educators suggest replacing the sequence of teaching algebra, geometry, and calculus with a sequence of instruction stressing finance, data, and basic engineering.

In their financial courses, students would learn about exponential functions; use formulas in spreadsheets; and study the budgets of people, organizations, and governments.

In data courses, students would gather data sets and learn how in, say, sports and medicine, larger samples lead to better estimates of averages.

Basic engineering courses would teach students about the inner workings of engines, sound waves, TV signals, and computers.

Science and mathematics, Garfunkel and Mumford stressed, were "discovered together, and they are best learned together."

Source: The New York Times

Start Date: 
Tuesday, September 6, 2011