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Why teach Math?
Posted by George Garza on May 18, 2019 at 2:17 pmAs I’ve been working on putting my classroom structure together and spiraling curriculum and every other idea I’m tinkering with as I dive head first into this whole math reform movement, I’ve been thinking about the student goals. Not just the standards, but what skills I want my math students to have when they leave me, and larger, why should schools even teach math.
We live in a time when almost all of those students can use verbal commands to ask their pocket computers to solve just about any math question. The vast majority of these students won’t need to know the algorithms or equations in their post high school lives. After prealgebra, they really are very unlikely to use the math they learn, except to explore more math. Its almost like a ponzi scheme.
So in light of the tech and realities we face, why teach mathematics? It seems to me that the answer to that question will drive how and what we teach the learners, both curricular and extracurricular.
So what do you all think? Why teach should we teach math in 2019?
Daniel Whittaker replied 3 years, 6 months ago 5 Members · 6 Replies 
6 Replies

I definitely agree with you about the technology, but my problem with not teaching math is that we need to make the connections and the conceptual understanding. I think you are looking at it from the stand and deliver and just know the procedures the teacher wants you to. I believe we need to teach for understanding and not just the things you can put into a computer. We also need to think about what a mathematician and problem solver would do. Maybe the question isn’t why teach math in 2019, but “How should we teach math in 2019?”

Thanks for your response Shawn. I wholeheartedly agree that there are better methods of teaching math. I guess what I’m trying to do is explore what kids should get from math class. We know it’s not algorithms, and equations. So what is it, and why is math the right vehicle for the job?
Teaching for understanding still implies that the end goal, the skills that students should take away from all their math experience is the math itself. As was discussed prior, computers do all that now. Okay, we’ve got students that understand how and why to manipulate an algebraic expression, but what does that get them unless they go into a STEM field? Why would someone that wants to be a plumber care about absolute value, even if they fully understand what it is and what it means?
I truly believe that how we answer the question “Why teach math to everybody in 2019?” Will determine how our classes should be run, what time should be focused on, and what pedagogies we subscribe to.
You comment about about looking at what mathematicians and problem solvers would do gets closer I think, but what is it about mathematicians that people should emulate? Same for problem solvers.
To be clear, I’m just trying to discover the answer to this question, not be argumentative.
So again, I ask, why teach math in 2019?
On a side note, I get why it’s called “Stand and Deliver” teaching, but I hate that that’s also the name of a moviei about a great math teacher who almost definitely didn’t just do “stand and deliver” teaching. I’ve got a lot of respect for what Jaime Escalante was able to accomplish.

My answer to that question and others along the lines of ‘Why do I have to learn this (usually algebra), Miss?’ is that Maths is about seeing patterns, about looking at the pattern and the data and analysing it and solving problems. It is about making sense of how the world around us works. It’s about noticing and wondering and then answering your own questions.
I then relate the current topic to something relatable to them.
I get that each student will have a different need in their future life, but at middle school level how do they know what they will need, so why limit their future by not giving a broad understanding and skills involved with maths?

I totally get where you are coming from. It is challenging to teach the more abstract concepts in a way that seems useful to students. I think what this “math reform movement” can accomplish is giving students ways to see and use the math concepts we are teaching them. When taught as a series of rules and algorithms that need to be memorized and then repeated, there is little room for seeing the “why” these algorithms work, or the “how” these concepts can be applied. I agree with Cartin’s point that math is very useful because it explains the world around us. Personally, in the short time I’ve been working on changing the way I teach math, I’ve discovered more uses for the math I teach that I have in my previous 12 years of teaching. Even as a math teacher with over 10 years of experience, I feel like I understand math better now than I ever have, because I’m learning to look for math in different areas and think about how math can help describe or explain what is happening. Almost everything that is happening around us can be explained mathematically in some way, but this is not how most students see math. I think our job is to help students see the way that math gives us models that we can use to describe things that are happening around us, not a set of procedures to follow to get answers on worksheets. Easier said than done!!

This is my basic answer. Math is NOT algebra! Math is finding patterns and analyzing them. Algebra is just a tool that can be used to do this. In some ways I feel like we teaching high school math in the wrong way. Algebra should be a tool that is taught AFTER students are beginning to understand the need for it. Unfortunately too many of our standards and end of year tests require the ability to do algebraic manipulations, so we teach that first and sometimes only.
I guess in a way, that is MY big question, how do we teach all of algebra in a way that it is needed and not just a lesson in how to follow an algorithm?


Reading your responses I’m reminded of this quote: “Mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe”
So your answer to “Why should we teach math in 2019?” is it teaches students how to see and utilize patterns, and it teaches students how to model, am I understanding correctly? I agree that his is part of the answer.
As I’ve been thinking about this, I think I’ve got two reasons. This first is as follows: If the purpose of school is to prepare students for the future, and we don’t really know what the future is going to hold for out students, then we need to make sure they learn skills that will be valued and sought after as society becomes more technical. These are skills like modeling, pattern recognition, critical thinking, logic, and deductive and inductive reasoning. Also, these happen to be great life skills that help them in areas outside their profession. Our mission is to teach the students these skills, because math is unique in how many of these areas it hits requires.
That is the more “Pure Reason” the reason, however, the fact of the matter is simply that the more math you know, the more more doors are opened for you in life. If you can’t get past algebra, your probably in manual labor or some areas of the service industry. Although, many of those jobs make more than “higher” level jobs and can be very fulfilling in themselves. Get through Stat’s and that’ll get you through most nonstem degrees at college, and higher blue collar jobs, like electricians (which make as much as I do as a starting teacher, but didn’t need years of school to get there.) To be successful in life, student will most likely need to know math up to calc or stats. Feels a bit like a ponzi scheme, i.e. I’m going to teach you this and you need to learn in because in the future someone else is going to teach more math that you will have to learn because someone, somewhere said you have to.
So, in conclusion, I guess, we should teach math because it is able to deliver on so many of the 21st century skills, especially when it is taught through a student centered pedagogy. We also teach math because the math itself unlocks doors in the the student’s future.