An article by Audrey Waters, Is Math Education Too Abstract , on Mindshift discusses the idea that the typical way of teaching math over time is not the most effective. Water pulls from an op-ed article by Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford:
“Today,” they write, “American high schools offer a sequence of algebra, geometry, more algebra, pre-calculus and calculus (or a “reform” version in which these topics are interwoven). This has been codified by the Common Core State Standards, recently adopted by more than 40 states. This highly abstract curriculum is simply not the best way to prepare a vast majority of high school students for life. The authors contend that the “traditional” math curriculum focuses too much on abstract reasoning and abstract skills. “Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering,” they suggest.
Audrey’s central question:
“But does thinking about “applied mathematics” mean necessarily that we have to steer clear of algebra and calculus as their own units in math education? Does putting math in context mean that we cannot teach math in abstract?”
The answer seems clear to me:
There are many sound reasons for teaching the elements and the contexts in which the elements live. Addressing BOTH is important; doing so is:
- it takes knowing to understanding
- it allows one to do something with their personal understanding
If we teach the elements and the whole, and do it well, we will get many questions. This will not be one of them:
Why do I need to learn this?