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Topic: Why trig?
Replies: 21   Last Post: Apr 3, 1997 4:17 PM

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Jack Roach

Posts: 177
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: Why trig?
Posted: Mar 31, 1997 4:46 PM
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On Mon, 31 Mar 1997 wrote:

> Addressed to: (tcorica)
> ** Reply to note from (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

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 real-life 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 real-life 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 "real-life" 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.


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