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Aptitude for Math

I have been meeting with several of my supervisors recently and discussing education.  I love the different philosophies of education and the debates and discussions my supervisors encourage.  During these talks, I discovered that most teachers are very subject centered.  We believe that our subject (math for me) is the most important thing in the life of a high school student.  Unfortunately, this is not true for the 16 year old students.  This also puts us in competition with teachers of other subjects.  I’m sure math teachers could start a debate with the English, Science, and History departments over which subject is the most vital for success after graduation. 

I try to be a realist when it comes to my students; math is not the most important thing in their lives.  I have come to the realization that other than my Pre Calculus students, I am not training or teaching future scientists, engineers, doctors, or mathematicians.  I am training and teaching students who will graduate high school and attend college and find a non-STEM job.  Math is not the most important thing to them.  I do not expect it to be.  So what is my job as a math teacher?

My job is to ease their fear of math.  I want them to leave my class not hating math.  I want to change their minds about math.  Teaching and grading in a traditional manner will most likely, not accomplish this.  This is why we watch “How I Met your Mother” clips and discuss the Crazy -vs- Hot scale.  I want them to love my class and not hate math.

This has always been my belief, until last week.  My husband is looking for a new job, so I have been scouring job openings.  I have come across so many job openings that do not require a diploma or experience, but demand “math aptitude”.  I’m not sure how they are going to test for this, but I’m sure the companies will.  So how do I teach students to develop their “math aptitude”?  This is not the same as memorizing the quadratic equation or a list of logarithm rules.  Math aptitude is being a good problem solver.  It’s deconstructing a box and creating a net for it.  It’s finding the most efficient way to pack a truck.  My fear is that it is some of the things I brush over in the curriculum or standards because it may be difficult to measure or teach.  There may be more than one way to solve the problem, and God-forbid, more than one correct answer.  Teaching and grading rules or equations is easy developing math aptitude, is not.

So what does it all mean?  Math will never be the most important thing to a 16 year old, and I don’t want to be so cocky as to think that math is the super subject all others lead to.  I do want my students to realize that in their future job searches, math aptitude is critical.

Categories: General
  1. February 5, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I think sometimes the reason why students shy away from math-centered careers is because they view math as only what they experience in high school. Here’s a nice video that helps to expand their horizons; I’ll admit, when I first watched this I was thinking “Wow! I wanna do what they’re doing.”:

    We use Math

    • February 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      Thank you so much. I love this. I have a class that is not motivated and this may help. One of them said he didn’t understand why he needed geometry. He wants to be a builder. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry.

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