Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What are we teaching and why? 'The other math'

What if we made some of those upper level math classes electives… and focused on something else?

What threads have the most value?

In travels around the globe to take a look at this (and many other things), here's what I discovered.

Statistics (and probability)

Statistical analysis… the ability to collect and synthesize data is already an important skill today. Imagine it's value say… 10 years from now. 20?

As requirements go, is 'Calculus' or 'Algebra' more valuable than skills from a 'Statistics' class? Some schools think so. Some even shifted requirements toward two statistics classes for each graduate.

Is Calculus more beneficial to a physician than a statistics course? I haven't met one yet who said yes. 22 and counting ; )

Paraphrased from Arthur Benjamin from Harvey Mudd College:

Risk, reward, randomness, understanding data. Mathematics of games, gambling, analyzing trends, predicting the future.  
Understand what two standard deviations from the mean, means...

Some would argue that teaching statistics requires certain Calculus applications. Ok... that depends on how you teach it. The difference there too is… that Calculus is 'integrated' into something.

Programming as a standalone, it's integration into Maker, and Robotics

Is there a beneficial form of logic reasoning that programming brings to the table that a traditional math curriculum does not?

Personally, I'd say yes. That's a lengthy topic to break apart here though.

What if:

We taught programming and integrated it into Making and robotics in, say, grades 3-12? Then what if we offered programming also as a standalone too?

What if we expanded these types of programs in many high schools with the resolve that we give to teach Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus?

How about the value in teaching kids to write simple code to solve problems? Results may vary, but it's a cool option to have in the pocket when you need it.

Interesting debate.

Or better put, are you discussing this at your district / school? Why not?

CS Classes?

Arkansas announced recently that CS classes must be offered in their schools. Students taking the CS courses are also eligible for 'math' credit.

It's an interesting move... requiring it. But I do like the idea that these programs should be available to students who have interest.

Many students I've spoken with, officially 47 out of 50 to date, would prefer to have CS classes available in place of extended math requirements.

CS skills instead of precalculus or calculus?

Web development skill and Digital Art

I see a large number of kids graduating with little to no web development skill. Many kids get a little Google Sites experience, perhaps a run with a basic blog or two, some video editing, different kinds of presentation software, and some social media exposure. Mostly though, social media is discussed in terms of 'basic digital citizenship' and then restricted.

Challenging and creative web development often is usually and sadly reserved to one elective class… or not at all.

Personal web site development I'm thinking more of here, not just another class blog where kids make a few contributions. Your site, your portfolio, your developing thoughts.

Vermont has something on the horizon called Act 77 legislation that will require every student to have a Personalized Learning Plan. With that comes the possibility of each student having a building their portfolio, their plan... and building some development and creative skill to bring that to fruition.

Why is web development (and digital art) skill important? I think it:

  • gives students a powerful canvas to develop their written and artistic voice
  • helps develop voice for a larger audience
  • emphasizes synthesis and reflection
  • builds skills in self and business marketing
  • builds digital problem solving and mashing (apps services, aggregation, social media, etc)
  • expands creative design palate, digital citizenship, technical troubleshooting, problem solving, and collaboration. Just a few that came to mind.

Manage your dough

Financial Literacy?

It's difficult to argue that 'managing money well' isn't an important skill.

Financial literacy… say Senior year, when it's becoming relevant? Yup, I'd say that's important. How about:

  • How credit ratings work
  • Credit cards and interest
  • Student loans
  • Business loans
  • Car loans (the good, bad, and ugly time to take these on)

Required practice? Just a few schools I've seen require a 'financial literacy' proficiency for graduation.

Computer Based Math: De-emphasize 'Hand Based Calculation'

from computerbasedmath.org

Why do we emphasize the act of 'calculation' so much in math curriculums?

By hand, on paper...

What if we emphasized less 'calculation' and more problem solving, especially with computers?

What we're talking about in many aspects here is a shift to / inclusion of 'computer based math.'

Statistics, simulation, data, programming...

I've thought many times about how reclaiming some of those hours dedicated than based calculation might do.

That shift will take some PD time for teachers. We've been emphasizing hand based calculation for... a long, long time.

Many schools have computers. Many schools have 1-1 computing, one device per child. Shouldn't we be investing a lot more time into using these devices in a math curriculum?


It's a debate that is uncomfortable for math teachers certainly. I get that. I'm certainly not saying math is not important. I am saying though, what math requirements are cast upon students in the main can and should be revisited.

Off to work for the day... ; )

More ideas 'what we teach and why' coming in posts here on this blog.


Links to the full 'What Are We Teaching and Why? series:

8. Start overhauling tired learning spaces
7. #educolor and literary choices
6. Positive ripples of student choice
5. Common roadblocks
4. Student pursuing their interests
3. The Other Math
2. Rethinking Math Requirements
1. AP Classes


  1. Nice post. Talking math and physics education this morning with Bob Goodman at the Little Rooster Café.

  2. Hurricane Bob! Please tell him I said "Hi!"