Year of the Snake (also, Statistics…but not Algebra)

My credit for links is beginning to go downhill, I blame the baby thing.  When I find good links, I leave the page open in Chrome, but don’t often leave the source open as well.  No one told me having a child would cause my internet etiquette to go so precipitously downhill.

All that to say, I have no idea where I saw this, but apparently 2013 has been declared The International Year of Statistics.  
Sadly, none of the events are in my neck of the woods, but still fun to know about.  
It also brought to mind this NYT Op-Ed piece about the necessity of algebra.  I’m a bit tardy in bringing it up, as there have been quite a few good responses to it already, but I wanted to throw my two cents in.  
Andrew Hacker argues that algebra and other current math standards are impractical and unfairly hold back people who aren’t good at math.  My first reaction was annoyance.  No one would ever argue that someone deserved to graduate high school without being able to read, no matter how much they excelled at math….and yet here someone is essentially arguing the reverse.  
When I took a deep breath however, it occurred to me that the last thing I want to do is defend the way math is taught to most high schoolers.  For many people, a course on functional statistics and/or financial math would be more useful, practical, and most likely easier to learn and remember.  If we’re headed that direction, there’s probably very few subjects taught in high school that couldn’t be improved with a little more practicality and a little less theory. 
To get back to the start of the post, I wouldn’t mind seeing algebra replaced with more statistical teaching….though large scale public understanding of stats and research methods might leave me with fewer things to blog about.  

5 thoughts on “Year of the Snake (also, Statistics…but not Algebra)

  1. bs king,

    I loved this:

    If we're headed that direction, there's probably very few subjects taught in high school that couldn't be improved with a little more practicality and a little less theory.

    Spoken like a true engineer! Unfortunately most of those responsible for putting together the national standards for math usually have PhDs in some extremely abstract branch of mathematics. It's a good idea though.



  2. I'm sometimes a little surprised at how few people can look at a trip to the store (or a long trip in a car) as an opportunity for using math skills to their advantage.

    I think I've already mentioned that I have a decade of numbers for fuel-costs and vehicle mileage.

    But there was this time, back when I was 5 or 6, when my Mom brought me along on a grocery-shopping trip. She had me write down prices of items she picked out, and coached me on rounding the continuing sum to the nearest dollar. When we got to the register, our estimate was within a couple of dollars of the final total.

    Even at that young age, I was impressed.

    (Of my parents, my Mom is much less interested in math/information than my Dad is. But she had lots of experience shopping on a budget.)

    Not everyone can do this on-the-fly. Or in their head. But it's knowledge that is useful. And it is a skill that gets better with practice.

    This way of thinking about teaching math is part of taking the dry theory and helping students learn how it applies. However, it may not be easy to do in a classroom.


  3. As a former math teacher, I would agree that some students would benefit more from statistics and personal finance courses than from algebra/geometry/trig.

    My ability to do estimates was enhanced by a 9th grade New Math course which focused on proofs and basic number principles- distributive, commutative, associative principles etc. Of course, already knowing basic multiplication and division helped.


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