Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mathematics at Sorenson's Ranch School

There are two questions every math teacher answers repeatedly. “Why do I have to do this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” At times it is difficult to help students understand why we do difficult things, and it is even harder to help them understand when they may use math in life.
Let’s start with the “why mathematics” question. The purpose of mathematics is to train the brain for critical thinking and problem solving skills. Mathematics requires that creativity and common sense work together to solve complex problems. Mathematics follows the basic, real-life model for problem solving below:
1) Explore
Examine problem.
What do you know? What do you need to know?
2) Plan
How do facts relate to each other?
Make a plan to solve the problem.
Estimate your answer.
3) Solve
Use your plan to solve the problem.
If your plan does not work, start over.
4) Examine
Is my answer reasonable?
Does it make sense?
If not, try again.
Although we use mathematics to teach this problem solving strategy, it is clearly a way to approach any problem one may encounter throughout life. From financial decisions to fixing a car, the decision making process learned from mathematics is critical to productive living.
Now let’s look at the “when” question of mathematics. It is true that many people will not use many of the things that they learn in mathematics after graduation from high school or college. We will use the basic math skills and problem solving abilities forever, but not many of us will need to know how to write the standard form of an equation of a hyperbola. This is what makes the “when” question difficult to answer. Truthfully, unless you are going to be an engineer, computer scientist, actuarial scientist, doctor, business administrator, or many other high-paying jobs, you won’t need higher level mathematics. Nineteen of the twenty highest paying and highest demand jobs rely heavily on math. One of the comments I like to use is: “If you don’t learn something, it is certain that you will never have the chance to use it.” Those who know more are able to do more, especially knowing mathematics. Encourage students to do well in all subjects, even if they don’t like them or feel that a given area of study is too difficult. There will be opportunities for them to use the knowledge they gain, and they will thank you later.