Why Do We Have to Study Math in School?
Date: 02/25/2005 at 00:59:21 From: Ian Subject: Why do we learn advanced math in school? What I find difficult in school is to understand the concept of learning advanced math. I'm a freshman in high school and I'm in an advanced math class. My teacher said to write to "Dr. Math" if I had questions about Math, and well, I do. When I grow up, the job I want to do will have nothing to do with radicals, algebra, imaginary numbers, and all this other complicated stuff. I understand why we learn basic math, but why all this extra stuff? My job will never require any of that. Yes, you might say, "Well you'll need it later in life", but I always have a calculator for that. In fact if you go to your local supermarket, they use a cash register with a built in calculator. Besides occurrences with money (and I'm sure I'm not going to have questions dealing with radicals), why are we taught this stuff?
Date: 02/25/2005 at 08:32:06 From: Doctor Ian Subject: Re: Why do we learn advanced math in school? Hi Ian, Okay. First, there's an important distinction to be made between what you need to know, and what can be useful to know. Here's a discussion I had with someone about that, which you might find interesting: Math is Power? http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/62716.html Second, I'll tell you a secret: The reason you're being forced to study math has nothing to do with whether you'll _use_ it or not. You probably won't. Hardly anyone does. What you're actually supposed to be learning in math class is the art of problem reduction, i.e., starting with a problem, reducing it to a simpler problem, reducing _that_ to a simpler problem, and so on, until you end up with a problem that's trivial to solve. Unfortunately for you (and a lot of other students), many math teachers don't understand this, or at least don't emphasize it as much as they should. What makes math such a nice laboratory for problem reduction is that it's possible to very precisely control the complexity of the problems that are assigned. Any real world problem has so many complications that it's easy to lose track of the forest for paying too much attention to the trees. But in math, if we can get you to the point where you can solve an equation like 3x + 4 = 5 then it's just one step to being able to solve an equation like 3x + 4 = 5 - 2x and just another step to being able to solve an equation like 3x 4 2x -- + - = 2 + -- 7 5 9 and so on, and so on. And this continues on up through calculus, and analysis, and, well, everywhere that mathematics goes. At each level of complexity, what you're _supposed_ to be doing is developing the habit of looking at the problem in front of you, and thinking: "Forget about the solution for now. What can I do to turn this into an easier problem?" If you can master that skill, then once you're done, you can forget about all the specific mathematics. Remember when you were a toddler, developing hand-eye coordination and a basic understanding of balance by building towers of blocks? When was the last time you stacked up a bunch of blocks? Years and years ago. When do you expect to do it again? Probably never. Does that mean the time you spent learning to do it was wasted? Not at all. You kept the basic skills--which had nothing at all to do with blocks, per se--and left the toys behind. Same thing here. - Doctor Ian, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 02/25/2005 at 19:10:10 From: Ian Subject: Why do we learn advanced math in school? Thank you very much. This basically answers my question. I'm going to print this out and show it to my teacher, maybe we'll get less homework or something. ;-) -Ian
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