Research in Science Education

Using Relevency Connections

Tue May 07, 2013 12:09 PM

In my feed from ASCD this morning was a link to this piece in the Wall Street Journal
There are two pieces to this that seemed lumped together. 1. How much and what math should be taught to non STEM majors. Here I think the piece underestimates the value of math in teaching thinking skills and the extent to which math IS used in non-Stem fields esp business. The increasing availability of big data can only mean that the importance of math is likely to increase everywhere. 2. The second issue is whether or not grounding math instruction in career relevant examples improves learning (accessibility of the topic to the student). Here is my view is the more important question. It seems that any data I have every seen suggests the relevancy improves learning. In my own education, much of the math I learned was taught in the chemistry department.

My vote is NO to less math and YES to more career relevant contexts
New Course Recommended for Some High-School Students
" Amid a national push to lift high-school standards in the U.S., a new study recommends a different approach for students who go on to community college, one that emphasizes basic subjects to provide them with only the skills they would need to succeed in their future careers.

According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, some students who end up at community college are taking too many high-level math courses without fully comprehending them, meaning their achievement rates at the start of college can be stuck at a middle-school level. Students are then often placed in remedial courses in community college, where they usually don't receive credit toward a degree.

Instead, the nonprofit group's study, being released Tuesday and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, suggests that most students don't need advanced algebra and should only take it in high school if they plan to work in science, technology, engineering or math fields. The organization spent two years analyzing the textbooks, graded tests and homework of first-year students in community college, where students can do vocational training or earn associate's degrees and transfer to four-year schools. Almost half of high-school graduates enroll in community college for postsecondary education.

"We're not saying to lower math standards, but we ought to require math that is appropriate for the direction students want to go in," said Marc Tucker, president of NCEE, a nonpartisan education think tank funded by private donations and government grants. "Otherwise, we produce failure where no failure is necessary."

Researchers recommend that high schools ensure that all students master a basic algebra course and then offer options that suit other professions, such as statistics or geometry, rather than the "one-size-fits-all" thinking behind the math curriculum that most schools require of graduates.

In reading and writing classes, the study found that community colleges use textbooks for 11th and 12th grade proficiencies that, even though the students completed those grades, are still too hard for many of them. Subsequently, the teachers lower their standards, the study found.

"America's employers don't need individuals who regurgitate facts," said Dane Linn, a vice president of Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs. "They need individuals who solve problems, work in teams and know the content of issue they are working on.

Six years after enrolling in community college, nearly half of high-school graduates didn't have a degree and were no longer signed up for classes, according to a study by American Association of Community Colleges.

"This study comes at a time when colleges are re-examining their campuses," said Kathy Mannes, a senior vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges. "Some of these choices should be employer-driven and depend on what is needed in the workplace."

Pam Guenther, who teaches algebra at Santa Barbara City College in California, has "mixed feelings" about recommended changes to math curriculum. "I like the idea that we teach what is necessary," she said. "But at 16 or 17, do you really know what you want to be when you grow up?"

Credit: By Caroline Porter "

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68500 Activity Points

Mon Jun 17, 2013 1:36 PM

I agree, yes more math. And it should be applicable math. But what math is applicable? Algebra, certainly (although I doubt many students will ever use quadratic equations or solving the squares outside of engineering and science fields - but a little extra knowledge provides a grasp of how those people think and if unnecessary will be replaced with useful info later).

Geometry in this article is referred to as an advanced math. I disagree and think geometry is an essential skill for life in general. It helps us to understand how to keep the walls standing in our houses, how to prop up the car when we are changing a tire so it doesn't fall on our heads, and how to shoot billiards (I always liked the latter!). It also provides us with an example of a way to problem solve in a logical manner and how doing something step-by-step can lead to reliable results. Still, there are probably some things taught in geometry courses that will never be used outside of astrophysics.

Statistics is also a necessary math that they do not recommend for some reason (and I wish I had learned more of it in school!). If people are expected to be able to make educated decisions about things like the environment, global climate change, politics, whatever - all of which depend on an understanding of information being presented as statistics.

However, I know my daughter's fiance is required to take advanced algebra and calculus for a major in telecommunications - why? He will never need to know those skills. Is it just to charge more money (his contention)?

Tina Harris
Tina Harris
65560 Activity Points

Mon Jun 17, 2013 4:04 PM


Perhaps if your future son in law gets involved in the business side of telecommunications, he might need to calculate marginal cost, marginal revenue or marginal profit

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68500 Activity Points

Mon Jul 08, 2013 5:02 PM

Wow! Of the students pursuing technical colleges, I see a definite need for more math as well. The students I see in technical education also have much higher demands on them to be computer-systems literate, and make rational systems based on logic. The students leaving technical colleges are not being trained to press buttons at the local burger place!

Case in point: One of the most in-demand positions in my area is CNC programmer, a skill taught at the technical college level. A CNC programmer must be able to read and understand technical drawings and be able to set up the machines to create the specified part. A student's father (I had been working with her on her trigonometry) was explaining to me his need for math in his role as a CNC maintenance technician, which included a fairly extensive application of his knowledge of trigonometry and 2-D and 3-D geometry. Computer programmers, increasingly being trained in technical institutions, require higher level rationalization and abstraction skills. Many graduate-level information systems professionals use the technical college system in this area to develop current knowledge of new technologies. Many of the students completing technical programs also have a much better career ladder into management than ever before. There is less of a stigma about attending a technical college than in past years. Students with strong technical preparation are actually being hired more quickly than college grads.

Less math is definitely not a good thing for most students attending tech schools!

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67880 Activity Points

Sun Aug 02, 2015 1:38 PM

Jennifer, I came across your post while reading for something else, and you mention something I have often wondered. How did you find out that CNC programmers were locally in demand? I would love to have information about local jobs to help increase chemistry's relevance to my students.



Susan Gendreau
Susan Gendreau
80 Activity Points

Thu Aug 29, 2013 10:43 PM

I agree, Jennifer. Not just more math, but more practice in using those math skills in real life applications. Practice makes perfect! That's why math and science are a match made in heaven.
I did an advanced search using math as the key word and filtering for lesson plans, and there were over 40 lesson plans integrating math and science.

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79588 Activity Points

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