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The World Doesn’t Need Another Math Textbook
I know this statement is shocking. Some of you may think that I have announced the end of civilization as we know it. How will people in the world learn math without the latest and greatest math textbook. The answer is simple. As people have always learned mathematics before the modern education system by doing mathematics as they go about their daily lives. You may ask “Is this possible?” “Does it work?” i believe This is the reason why I made this statement when asked if my new book “Math is Child’s Play” would be a math textbook. But in all fairness, let’s look at both sides, school math vs everyday math.
Let’s look at school math first. I have been studying math anxiety of late. A growing number of people claim to hate maths, being ‘not good at maths’ and worrying about doing basic maths. These are the same people taught math in our public schools. When did this state of math anxiety begin? Who knows for sure? But the important thing is that it is increasing, not decreasing. Despite modern education systems, new mathematics and sophisticated teaching methods, all the money and energy put into the problem continues to grow. Just for the record, I found a 1970 copyrighted book by Harold R. Jacobs called “Mathematics; A Human Endeavour” in which the author mentions the failure of the new mathematics in schools in the preface. A 1964 book titled “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” by Ralph Crouch and George Baldwin, written to teach mathematics to elementary teachers who were expected to teach mathematics without any training in mathematics.
Marilyn Burns, a well-known math expert, has been addressing math anxiety since her first book “I Hate Mathematics” in 1970 to her current book “Math; Facing an American Phobia” in 1998. The last book deals with mathematics. Anxiety as a growing phenomenon. And the more recent “Math for the Anxious” by Rosen Proga, copyright 2005, is also very clear about math anxiety and its causes. Of course, all this math anxiety is good; At least it is for the math textbook industry. Math Concerns sells math textbooks. Parents are concerned that their children learn math better than they do. Teachers are calling for better ways to teach math. This is great news for math textbook companies. For you and me, this is bad news.
So let’s look at the other side. Is it possible for people to learn mathematics in everyday life; Running your own business or household, doing projects etc.? Is it possible? I believe it is and no one knows it already. My daughter claims to hate math, yet she is doing math in Neopets daily. When I asked her about it, she said it wasn’t real math. So what kind of math was this? I think he means it’s not ‘school math’. I met an airline pilot who went into great detail about the calculations he made in his head to fly the plane. Later she hated maths in school. She wasn’t ‘good at it’. She wasn’t even able to balance her checkbook. When I pointed out that the calculations she did to fly the plane were math, she was adamant that it wasn’t because she wasn’t good at math in school. She said “it’s just a formula I plug numbers into.” Marilyn Byrne tells a similar story about an interior decorator who could figure out a price for an entire room, but also realized she wasn’t any good at math. These are people who couldn’t do ‘school math’ but are doing the math that their everyday lives demand. They probably learned this math on the job; So they don’t associate it with school math.
Math is best learned in the real world, with real life situations. It might start counting the cookies your mom gives you. Later you start comparing the number you got with the number your brother got. You quickly learn to calculate ‘how much’ he got more than you, so that your complaint is justified. Next, you’re watching mom cut a pie or cake. You quickly count how many pieces each person can have, that is until Mom steps in and tells you how many you can actually have. Then you calculate how much you can have tomorrow with all those guests gone. This is a simple real-life scenario, but that’s how many math concepts I covered here. These skills grow with your children. How many of you have watched your older children go through Halloween candy? Sorts and counts to assess how my child has done. Halloween is also a great time to teach about taxes. Parents should take their share of sweet treats, and not just sweets that the child doesn’t like. Remember, Uncle Sam takes your cut off before you even see a dime.
Games are a good way to learn math. I like miniature golf and billiards to learn about angles and balls. Of course this may sound like physics, Newton’s law of relativity. And it is, but there is no better way to learn geometry and algebra with practical application. What could be more practical than learning while playing? Wow, here’s another real life example for learning math. I like to play games. You name it; Board games, card games, strategy games. If it challenges me and tests my intelligence and problem-solving abilities, I like it. Games like Nim, Checkers, Chess, Mancala, Stratego, Battleship, Jeopardy, etc. help develop logic sequences and strategy. Games like Uno, Skip-bo, Set, Rummikub help children develop the ability to see patterns. Games like cribbage, gin rummy, scrabble really help kids practice addition and multiplication.
But enough with games, let’s talk some serious stuff. If you want to learn math, do a project like decorating a room. Do everything from calculating paint or wallpaper, to calculating materials and sewing curtains, to ordering and positioning furniture. Design a new cabinet layout for your kitchen including cabinet dimensions, appliance positioning and project cost calculations. Try building something like a drop desk or playground swing set, or a go-kart. How about a baking or sewing/quilting project? Make all the preparations for the dinner party including planning, shopping, seating arrangements, cooking, etc. Try trading some paper stocks and track them for a year. Start an eBay business. Wow! Wouldn’t it be great to turn your child’s math project into a home-based business that pays for your child’s college education? It is possible and it is real life.
When it comes to learning math, there are plenty of opportunities in everyday life and learning is natural, not forced. On the other hand, the problem of math anxiety is rooted in our modern education system. The problem is that non-mathematicians are like experts when they teach math. The problem lies with math textbooks that present math in an artificial and rigid way. As much as I love Marilyn Burns’ book, “Math; Facing an American Phobia,” I think she sums up the situation right. Ms Burns is still trying to ‘fix’ the system. It’s clear to me that it’s time to throw out the system and get back to learning math in everyday life. So I stand by my statement “The last thing the world needs is another math textbook.”
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