real world math

real world math - When asked for the biggest complaint...

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When asked for the biggest complaint elementary and middle school aged students have for their school’s math curriculum, most will continuously answer that it seems to have no place in the real world. Indeed, how difficult it is for a growing mind to make a connection between abstract concepts written on a blackboard and the conscious, every day mathematics choices that we make through our lives. Indeed, it is clear to an adult why a firm grasp on simple computations and arithmetic is a useful if not absolutely necessary skill for one to possess. A math teacher once commented to a colleague who criticized the real world applications of the math taught in the classroom given our computerized era, “what would the Wal-Mart cashier do when his register broke down? Shrug and send his customers away defeated?” He continued by musing about what those in line might have thought when encountering an individual so deeply rooted into what his computer tells him that he is unable to perform simple addition himself. But perhaps this is at the root of frustration. As school systems develop, the amount of math taught has grown prohibitively large. Students of the 60s would graduate with scarcely more than a firm knowledge of basic arithmetic. Few students went through a program of algebra, even, and fewer moved on to geometry. In a way, this makes sense. In the above example, it would take hardly more than simple addition computations mixed with perhaps a sprinkling of multiplication. High school graduates who are capable of performing these simple computations in their heads or more complex arithmetic with the aid of pencil and paper would be sufficiently trained to survive in most real-world encounters. In fact, save for a few specific professionals, few of us use algebra in our day-to-day lives. Naturally, a basic understanding of the concepts presented in such topics is necessary, just as would be found in geometry, however it is far less necessary to
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learn from formulas in a classroom as it is to learn from actual encounters with objects. One could adequately predict the volume of a sphere without knowing the precise formula to calculate it. And yet modern high schools have moved significantly beyond this point. Most curriculums begin with two years of algebra, move on to either geometry or trigonometry, and finish with calculus. The conclusion is almost strikingly ridiculous; how many individuals outside of the field of mathematics and engineering actually use calculus? Even more depressing, how could a standard individual even utilize these concepts to aid him in other areas? So the central problem re-reveals itself: much of the math taught in classrooms simply has to connection to the real world. The age-old question pondered by student after student is asked once again: “when will we ever use this stuff?” In response, math teachers at earlier levels have resorted to a much easier-to-grasp method of learning math. Abstract concepts like numbers and the symbols used to
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This essay was uploaded on 04/16/2008 for the course MATH 1a taught by Professor Keeping during the Spring '06 term at UCSD.

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real world math - When asked for the biggest complaint...

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