Teachers and Math: A Guest Post

Today’s guest post is by Alan Liddell, one of the lead instructors for AcerPlacer in Ogden, Utah, a private company that teachers college math courses for its students. I asked him to write this post because of one response on an informal survey I conducted where one teacher said that they didn’t use any math because they didn’t teach it.

As a math teacher, one would think that it is obvious that I would use math in my everyday life for my career. While it is true that I do teach college-level math on a daily basis to students, my uses of math go far beyond the classroom.

For instance, I use math for statistical analysis for the company I work for. I am in charge of calculating the percentage of student test out rates and to perform statistical analysis to determine lead causes of percentage results and to predict future percentages based on previous years. I am also required to use pivot tables to compare different sets of data to determine causality and possible relationships between them.

In addition, I create spreadsheets in Google Sheets and Excel that require algebraic expressions to be inputted to auto-populate cells and columns. Although the language of Excel and Google Sheets maybe be different than traditional math, the concepts are the same.

I also use math to quickly number crunch various menial tasks around the office. I may have to make copies of a certain homework packet, so I will use mental math to determine how many copies to place into the copier queue.

As a final anecdote, I used the Pythagorean Theorem to help me at the post office for work. I was tasked with picking up boxes to ship our books to online students, and when I got to the post office, they had various sizes to choose from. The one I thought might work was a box that had the proper height, but had width and depth dimensions of 8.5 in and 1.5 in respectively. I knew that our book had a width of approx. 9.5 in, so I used the Pythagorean Theorem to determine if the book could fit on a diagonal in the box (it turns out that it could not). Using math saved me an additional trip back to the post office.

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Discussion: Algebra vs Statistics

For this discussion, we will be talking about the article Down With Algebra II! In it, the author argues that, based on a book by Andrew Hacker, algebra II should be eliminated as a required course and replaced with a class on statistics.

Let me start by saying I strongly disagree with the author that advanced algebra has little worth. If I felt that way, I wouldn’t be writing a blog to help people see how math is used. However, the discussion to be had here isn’t whether algebra is good for students to study, but rather if statistics would be better. Statistics are indeed everywhere, and many people are forced to understand things like medians or means to understand news discussions about political topics. However, is that of more worth to students than learning the abstract thinking that accompanies algebra?

What do you think? Would algebra or statistics work better as a general education course?