>In case no one noticed, I see no women in on this discussion. Baseball >sure won't interest me in mathematics, nor will Barbie Dolls. On the >other hand, a classroon visit by a real person who uses mathematics in >their profession can and will excite students. The book problems, real >or contrived will never replace the excitement of good teachers and >others who help show students see both the "application" and the "for its >own sake--beauty & power" sides of mathematics. > >Doris Schattschneider
The issue of interest is so very complex. Do we talk about barbie dolls or baseball scores? Unfortunately, I think that might be the wrong question. In the past, I've found it very important and reassuring to attempt to know the students that I work with on an individual level, to the extent that I know what might interest them. It is important to work those general types of interest at times. However, I think the real fascination (especially in math) is with what "real" mathematicians do. I wish I knew. The idea that Schattschneider presented about inviting a mathematician from the outside into the classroom to talk about what they do is a great one. Or even an engineer...someone who works with numbers a great deal. The problem with doing baseball or barbie questions is that I think students really do just want to "strip away the fluff". Kids aren't oblivious; if you present a math problem to them using baseball just to catch their interest, they will catch on quickly, and merely strip off the context. If, on the other hand, you give them some sort of real life task to complete, that is interesting to them, and that involves the math that you wish to teach, the interest being addressed cannot be seen as fluff. If you actually let them go out and measure a baseball field, or give them the task of creating a baseball field within a certain amount of space, you might unleash some greater creative energy that can be directed at math. In this way, math can be creative just like literature and science.