Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MOST Frequently Asked Question

A few years back Mattel got in big trouble for one of the statements its "Teen Talk Barbie" made: "Math class is tough."

Historically women are under-represented in mathematical fields. Often I've heard female students of mine who are coming back to school in their 30's say that when they were in high school a counselor told them not to worry about math - that girls aren't good at it and don't need it. That comment terrified them and kept them from taking math, which barred them from many professions and put their lives on hold to some degree until they were able to overcome that fear and return to school (and nearly all of these women did very well - typically scoring at or near the top of the class.)

So, anyway, of course Barbie's message is not the one we want to send out. This is not just a problem for females, though. I have found through 22 years of teaching mathematics that many (or most) people, BOTH male and female DO think "math class is tough." When things get particularly tough the following INVARIABLY happens. A hand goes up; I call on the person; the question comes: "Why do we have to learn math; when am I going to use this in my real life?" as if on cue.

This is so predictable I can almost tell what week of the semester we are in by when this question comes up. It is interesting to me that it never comes up at the beginning when we are doing review, and the material is relatively easy. It seems people don't care how something is going to be useful to them as long as it is not too hard, but when it gets hard that is the MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION. (I have actually begun addressing that question during the first week of class since I know it is going to come up, but I'm finding people seem to forget by week 7 what I said during week 1). What I share with them is this FANTASTIC one-page article written by a middle-school math teacher.

SO, after 22 years, I have finally decided to handle this (M)FAQ by WRITING the answer and putting it up on the internet rather than answering it on the fly each time I get the question.

Please check in again soon. I will have MY answer up and hyperlinked within the next couple of days as to WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TO LEARN MATH. (I'm not being sarcastic. I do see it as a legitimate question, and it makes sense that people would ask this of something into which they are investing a lot of time and effort. And it is because I see this as a legitimate question that I want to give a substantial legitimate answer.)

No comments: