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Archive for November, 2012

The Math Education Crisis

Friday, November 23rd, 2012


 Mathematical Mis-education

Mathematicians and other scientists are upset about the current state of math education in American schools. Here are a few nuggets taken from the website http://wisemath.org/.

“We support a balanced approach between understanding and skills. Unfortunately, in the shift towards ensuring that children understand math concepts, which we support, several important elements of mathematics have been neglected, or completely eliminated, from curricula and math classrooms.”

“The most recent version of the WNCP (Western and Northern Canadian Protocol) math curriculum omits all standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.”

“Martin Scharlemann, while chairman of the Department of Mathematics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote an open letter deeply critical of the K-6 curriculum MathLand, identified as “promising” by the U. S. Department of Education. In his letter, Professor Scharlemann explains that the standard multiplication algorithm for numbers is not explained in MathLand. Specifically he states, “Astonishing but true — MathLand does not even mention to its students the standard method of doing multiplication.” ”

“Post-secondary instructors are also frustrated by the weak math skills of many new graduates and are troubled by the fact that many math teachers are not receiving adequate training in math before entering classrooms in Canada.”

It is inconceivable to me that anyone would think that you can understand Arithmetic, let alone Algebra, without mastering the basic algorithms for addition, multiplication, subtraction and division. Yes, you can buy a $10 calculator that will “find the answer” to any given numerical calculation, but this does NOT imply that learning these algorithms is not necessary.

The 7-11 checkout clerk tells you your purchases add up to $8.63, so you hand him a $10 bill and he gives you $1.24 change. When you get outside you ask yourself how come a coke ($1.49) and some chips ($2.49) can add up to over $8.00. So you reach for your calculator – oops, it’s at home. So you return to the store to complain, but the clerk explains that there was tax of 87c. Now what? Shrug it off? Too bad you never learned how to add or multiply, and after that how to do quick approximate sums in your head.

Then you go to a political rally, where the candidate tells you that his opponent’s tax policies will cost taxpayers $750 billion. Is this realistic? And is it dollars per year, or over a 4-year period? And how much is that per average taxpayer? Would you dare take out your calculator there among all the screaming audience? And how do you enter the number 750 billion into the calculator, anyway?

Math Overboard!

If that was your experience in school, you might want to re-learn your basic math from scratch. I would like to recommend my recently published book Math Overboard! (Basic Math for Adults). Covering all of school math, from kindergarten to Grade 12, Math Overboard! stresses the importance of understanding math in detail, as you learn it, or in this case, re-learn it. Frequent Problems test your understanding as well as your skills. It’s not an easy book, but it’s your best hope to really learn what math is all about.

For further information, please visit Math Overboard!

Re-learning Math with Math Overboard!

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Re-learning Math

Millions of people could benefit from re-learning the math that they were taught in school. For example, you may wish to prepare for college courses in Science, Economics, or other fields. Or you may just feel frustrated that you never really understood math at school.

Two possible methods for re-learning math are:

  1. Search the web using keyword phrases like “basic math,” “understanding math,” and so on.
  2. Obtain a book.

But where should you start? And what book? There are thousands of web sites and many books.

The Khan Academy

Web searching will probably lead you to the Khan Academy, a fantastic site (sponsored in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). Under “Mathematics,” the Khan Academy has over 1,200 excellent, free videos covering all topics from school math. The videos are great, but you might have to view the whole lot of them, and go through the associated Problem sets,  to re-learn math. The videos are aimed at beginning students who have never seen the math before, so they’re very time-consuming. Is there some way to choose just those videos you need?

Math Books

A math book may be a better way to go. But should you buy 12 books, one for each grade? Or a separate Algebra text, Geometry text, Trigonometry text, and so on? Most of these are school texts, written for kids. Is there a single book that reviews all of Basic Math, addressed to adults, not children?

Math Overboard!

My recent book Math Overboard! (Basic Math for Adults) is designed precisely for this purpose. It covers andexplains all of school math, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, in an understandable fashion. For example, why can’t you divide by zero? Why is it true that a(b+c) = ab + ac? Why is the sum of the angles in a triangle equal to 180 degrees? Why is the quadratic equation valid? What is a logarithm? What is a probability? And so on. The book is readable by students, parents, and anyone interested in re-learning, or improving their understanding of basic math.

Math Overboard! consists of two volumes:

Part 1: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Functions and Graphs. (Published November, 2012; 444 pages. Price if ordered from the website (includes 20% discount from retail price), $24.00.)

Part 2: Trigonometry, Exponential and Logarithmic Functions, Complex Numbers, Statistics and Probability, Advanced Topics. (Expected publication date June, 2013.)

Your Re-learning Strategy

Re-learning math is not going to be easy. It will be necessary to concentrate, and to really try hard to understand why formulas and theorems are valid. Work hard on solving the given Problems (before looking up the solutions!).

  1. Combine your intensive study of Math Overboard! with occasional videos from the Khan Academy, when you need more elaborate help with unfamiliar or confusing topics.
  2. Follow the advice in Math Overboard! for learning math, and avoiding errors.
  3. Retain Math Overboard! as an indispensable reference for use in later math courses.

 

For further information, please visit Math Overboard!

 

Calculus killed me

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Why do so many students fail Calculus?

 

The young lady behind the counter was making change. I said that the next time I was in her bookstore I hoped my own new book would be on display. “Oh,” she said, “what’s it called?”

“Math Overboard,” I replied, “It’s a review of school math, written for adults.” “Hey, that’s just what I need,” she said, writing down the book’s and my name. “Calculus killed me,” she volunteered.

Calculus seems to kill a lot of pretty bright kids. It’s not that calculus is that hard – it isn’t. The problem is that many students come to calculus with an inadequate understanding of school-level math, including algebra, analytic geometry, functions and graphs, logarithms, exponentials, and trigonometry. This lack of understanding is often combined with poor writing skills in mathematics – brackets are misused, equality signs run on endlessly, and so on. These students lack confidence in their mathematical abilities – they suffer from “Math Anxiety.”

But what can be done about it?

Math Overboard!

My recently published book Math Overboard! (Basic Math for Adults) deals head-on with this problem. Covering all of school math, from kindergarten to Grade 12, Math Overboard! stresses the importance of understanding math in detail, as you learn it, or in this case, re-learn it. Frequent Problems test your understanding as well as your skills.

Math Overboard! consists of two volumes:

Part 1: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Functions and Graphs. (Published November, 2012; 444 pages. Price if ordered from the website (includes 20% discount from retail price), $24.00.)

Part 2: Trigonometry, Exponential and Logarithmic Functions, Complex Numbers, Statistics and Probability, Advanced Topics. (Expected publication date June, 2013.)

 

For further information, please visit Math Overboard!