
Re: Why trig?
Posted:
Mar 31, 1997 4:46 PM


On Mon, 31 Mar 1997 GYanos@uic.edu wrote:
> Addressed to: tcorica@peddie.k12.nj.us (tcorica) > mathteach@forum.swarthmore.edu > > ** Reply to note from tcorica@peddie.k12.nj.us (tcorica) Mon, 31 Mar 1997 13:39:09 0500 > > > > Trig is easy to defend! > > Why is it that questions from students about different bits of math > cause so much agitation among teachers? > > I wonder how often English teachers get "why should we study > Shakespeare?" I don't know about the often, but I suspect their > answer is that people without passing knowledge of old Will are > ignorant. >
Exactly so! But let me try to answer the question. I think it is because there is a strong feeling that since there are some uses for mathematics, the study of mathematics needs to be justified in terms of its usefulness.
Writing about the NCTM Standards in the April AMS _Notices_, p.455, Jack Price opens with: We educators must continually ask ourselves, "Are the skills we provide our students those that they will be using in their jobs and in their adult lives?" Hopefully the answer is a resounding yes; if not, then we are not living up to our obligations as educators.
Apparently Mr. Price idea of teaching mathematics is to provide students with job training. I wonder what he would make of history or music or literature. Are teachers of those subjects providing their students with job skills?
He goes on to mention, as justification for "change" which he appears to favor, that during the 1970s
As educators we did not show students reallife applications of mathematics and therefore did not answer the question on many students' minds, "When will I ever use this stuff?"
Of course not. But how often is this even possible? It might be possible in arithmetic (although I have no example in mind) but I doubt that it can be done in any reasonable fashion in courses from algebra through calculus. It is easy enough to look back and identify applications of, for example, trigonometry, especially to other areas of mathematics. It is quite different to give a reallife example of an application of trigonometry which is meaningful to a student at the time they are taking trigonometry.
So far, every example given either has nothing to do with an application of trigonometry to a "reallife" probem or else it's of the form, "Trust me, kids. It's used to build atomic bombs." Out here in the "real world" folks do not spend a lot of time calculating the heights of various flag poles. This may not be clear to Mr. Price but it is to students.
Jack

