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The World Doesn’t Need Another Math Textbook
I know this statement is shocking. Some of you may feel that I have declared the end of civilization as we know it. How in the world will people learn math without the best math book. The answer is simple. In the same way people have always learned math before the modern education system, by doing math as they go about their daily lives. You may ask “Is that possible?” “Will it work?” I believe so. That is why I made this statement when I was asked if my new book, “Maths is Child’s Play” was going to be a Mathematics book. But in all fairness, let’s look at both sides, school math versus everyday math.
First let’s look at school statistics. I have been reading the latest Math Anxiety article. A growing number of math haters, ‘math geeks,’ are concerned with doing basic math. These same people are taught math in our public schools. When did this math anxiety start? Who knows for sure? But the important thing is that it is increasing, not decreasing. It is increasing despite the modern education system, despite the New Mathematics and the latest teaching methods, despite all the money and energy put towards this problem. Just for the record, I found the book “Mathematics; A Human Endeavor” by Harold R. Jacobs which was copyrighted in 1970 and in its introduction the author mentions the failure of the New Mathematics in schools. A book from 1964, entitled “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” by Ralph Crouch and George Baldwin was written to teach mathematics to elementary school teachers who felt they were expected to teach mathematics despite their lack of mathematical training.
Marilyn Burns, a well-known mathematician, has been talking about math anxiety since 1970 with her first book, “I Hate Mathematics” to her current book, “Mathematics; Facing an American Phobia” 1998. This last book is about mathematics. anxiety as a growing phenomenon. And recently “Mathematics for the Anxious” by Rosanne Proga, copyrighted 2005 is also very clear about math anxiety and its causes. Of course, all this math anxiety is good; at least for the mathematics textbook industry. Math anxiety sells math textbooks. Parents are concerned that their children learn math better than them. Teachers need a better way to teach math. This is good news for math book companies. For you and me, this is bad news.
So let’s look at the other side. Is it possible for people to learn mathematics in everyday life; running their business or home, doing projects, etc. Is this possible? I believe it is and is already happening without anyone knowing about it. My daughter said she hates math, yet she does math every day on Neopets. When I asked him about it, he said it was not real math. So what kind of math was it? I think he meant it wasn’t ‘school math.’ I met a pilot who went into great detail about the calculations he did in his head to fly the plane. He later revealed that he hated math at school. ‘He was being unreasonable.’ He couldn’t even balance his checkbook. When I explained that the calculation he did to fly the plane was math, he insisted that it wasn’t that he wasn’t good at math at school. He said “It’s just a formula that I put numbers into.” Marilyn Burn tells a similar story about an interior decorator who could figure out the price of an entire room, but felt she wasn’t good at math. These are people who couldn’t do ‘school math’ but do the math that their daily lives demand of them. Maybe they learned this math at work; therefore they do not associate it with school mathematics.
Mathematics is studied mostly in the real world, and in real life situations. It might start with counting the cookies your mother gave you. Later you start comparing the number you got with your brother’s. You quickly learn to count how many times he got ‘more’ than you, so that your complaint is accurate. Next, watch Mom cut a pie or cake. You quickly count how many pieces each person can have, that is until Mom comes in and tells you how many you can actually have. Then you calculate how many you can have tomorrow with all those visitors gone. This is a really simple scenario, but how many math concepts have I included here. These skills grow with your children. How many of you have watched your grown children walk away with their Halloween candy? My child corrects and calculates to test how he did. Halloween is also a great time to teach about taxes. Parents should take their share of the sweet reward, and not just from the candy that the child does not like. Remember, Uncle Sam removes his top before you see a dime.
Playing is a great way to learn math. I love mini golf and the billions of studying angles and power. Yes this may sound like Physics, Newton’s Law of relativity. And yes, but there is no better way to learn geometry and algebra than through practical use. What could be more useful than learning as you play? Wow, here’s another real-life example of learning math. I love to play games. He gave it a name; board games, card games, strategy games. If it challenges me and tests my intelligence and problem-solving abilities, I like it. Games like Nim, Checkers, Chess, Mancala, Stratego, Battleship, Risk, etc. etc. helps develop logical and strategic sequences. Games like Uno, Skip-bo, Set, Rummikub help children develop their pattern recognition skills. Games like cribbage, gin rummy, Scrabble actually help children practice addition and multiplication.
But enough about games, let’s talk about serious things. If you want to learn math, do a project like decorating a room. Do all the work from calculating paint or wallpaper, calculating materials and sewing drapes, ordering and placing furniture. Design your new kitchen cabinet design, including calculating cabinet dimensions, appliance positioning and project costs. Try building something like a drop desk or a low swing set to play with, or a stroller. How about doing a baking or sewing/stitching project? Make all arrangements for the dinner party, including planning, shopping, seating, cooking, etc. Start a business on eBay. Wow! Wouldn’t that be great, to have your child’s math project become a home based business that pays for your child’s college education? It happens and it’s real life.
When it comes to learning math, everyday life has many opportunities and learning is natural, not forced. On the other hand, the problem of math anxiety is rooted in our modern education system. The problem is that there are non-mathematicians teaching math as if they were experts. The problem is that there are math textbooks that teach math in a false and rigid way. As much as I loved Marilyn Burns’ book, “Mathematics; Confronting the American Phobia,” I think she missed the right end of the story. Ms Burns is still trying to ‘fix’ the system. It’s clear to me that it’s time to ditch the program and get back to learning math in everyday life. That’s why I stand by my statement “The last thing the world needs is another Math book.”
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