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Question 3: Which mathematical topics are the most important for high school?
Posted:
Apr 21, 2001 4:49 PM


The question of which topic areas should receive the greatest emphasis in school mathematics is, I think, very much a function of cultural assumptions and biases. "Our" extended answer, as expressed in the U.S. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' "Principles and standards for school mathematics," is that five content and five process standards should permeate the curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12. The content standards are:
Number and operations, *Algebra *Geometry Measurement *Data analysis and probability.
I've starred the ones that are intended to receive the greatest emphasis at the high school level. I should note that we do far less geometry than the Chinese, even with this proposed emphasis; and that data analysis and probability receive significant emphasis.
Here's a personal justification, based in American cultural assumptions. With the recognition that mathematics instruction can either be a "pump" or a "filter," either helping people advance or barring them from advancement in an increasingly technological society, we want as many people as possible to have as many mathematical opportunities as possible. When I was a student, curricula were aimed for the mathematical elite; most students dropped out (50% each year from grade 9 on). Despite my Ph.D. in mathematics, my education was impoverished in some ways. I never had to write coherent arguments (I just put numbers in a box at the end of my work); I never made sense of real world phenomena using models or other mathematical tools; and I didn't study statistics until I taught it at the college level. Interestingly, those "defecits" in my own background are also things that people who enter the workplace have strong needs for  we want our citizens to be able to reason mathematically and convey their reasoning effectiuvely orally and in prose, and to make sense of realworld phenomena, using symolic modeling or statistical reasoning. Hence, a curriculum of the type suggested in "Principles and standards" could meet the needs of citizens who intend to enter the workplace, and those who wish to pursue the study of mathematics. That's what's intended (I was writing group leader for the high school section.)
I imagine that with different cultural assumptions, one could justify a curriculum with different emphases. That's why I laid out mine in some detail.
Cordially, Alan Schoenfeld
################################################## Alan H. Schoenfeld Elizabeth and Edward Conner Professor of Education Education, EMST, Tolman Hall # 1670 University of California Berkeley, CA 947201670
Phone: 5106420968 Fax: 5106423769 email: alans@socrates.berkeley.edu
Home page (papers, etc.): http://wwwgse.berkeley.edu/Faculty/aschoenfeld
UCB page: http://wwwgse.berkeley.edu/Faculty/gsefaculty.ss.html#schoenfeld
MARS website: http://www.educ.msu.edu/mars



