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# Why should girls bother with math?

maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 07:27 pm
@Kolyo,
Kolyo wrote:

maxdancona wrote:

It is not only math that is useless to most adults.

My daughter has to learn the State Capitals.

You should not compare Math with trivia. Even without any geography at all you could find what a state's capital was by Googling. On the other hand someone without any Algebra won't be able to understand how to calculate a derivative just by using Google.

You mention that when we learn Math we don't retain it, but one partially retains it. One often retains enough info on a topic to know how to get the rest of the info. And a concept is much easier to relearn than to learn from scratch.

You bring up another issue, most students don't really learn math. We teach kids a bunch of tricks for plugging in numbers and getting a result. Real math is an expressive language for communicating ideas and solving problems. High school students are not learning this.

When I was a teacher, we had a very easy (and humorous) way to demonstrate that students weren't learning real math. We would ask them...

Quote:
King Henry the Eighth had 6 wives. How many wives did King Henry the Sixth have?

Students are trained to look for places they can set up ratios... and sure enough, your average high school student will dutifully set up a ratio to solve this problem. I taught high school physics. It was very frustrating, the handful of students who could actually understand algebra (rather than just seeing it as a set of rote forms to plug numbers into), learned this because they had the curiosity. They were exceptional enough to learn in spite of the system.

The majority of students see math as a set of numerical mad libs. You find a memorized formula to match some problem, and you plug the numbers in. The number of students who actually understand the formula (or even have any interest in understanding it) are very few. I am highly skeptical that there is any value to this exercise.

If you are talking about teach real math, that is the expressive language that engineers, scientists and mathematicians use to communicate and solve problems, we don't ever teach that in high school. There is nothing to retain.

But fortunately, most Americans have no need to learn real math. And the vast majority of Americans have no interest in doing so.
maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 07:33 pm
@maxdancona,
Quote:
someone without any Algebra won't be able to understand how to calculate a derivative just by using Google.

This is also untrue. See http://www.derivative-calculator.net/
roger

2
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 07:41 pm
@Kolyo,
You're forgetting that we are talking about girls. Education is only going to confuse them.
Kolyo

3
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 08:30 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

Quote:
someone without any Algebra won't be able to understand how to calculate a derivative just by using Google.

This is also untrue. See http://www.derivative-calculator.net/

I'll get to your other points, but first let me say that's absolutely hilarious. Someone without any Algebra literally wouldn't understand a word of that explanation. There is literally not a single symbol that he would recognize. It might help someone who was learning Calculus, but not someone without any Algebra.
0 Replies

Kolyo

2
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 08:33 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

If you are talking about teach real math, that is the expressive language that engineers, scientists and mathematicians use to communicate and solve problems, we don't ever teach that in high school. There is nothing to retain.

But fortunately, most Americans have no need to learn real math. And the vast majority of Americans have no interest in doing so.

This is a decent point. But don't you think there are series of textbooks that do teach real math? The Chicago Series, for example, if one reads every word of the books?
maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 08:57 pm
@Kolyo,
I don't know if there are series of textbooks that do teach real math. Actually, I think the question is a little strange... textbooks don't teach math. Teachers teach math.

My point is much more direct.

We don't teach everyone real math because most Americans don't need to understand real math. Maybe 5% of adults will ever be in a situation where real mathematical reasoning is needed. If you are an engineer or a scientist or a cryptologist you need it. If you are a lawyer or a manager or a salesperson or a financial analyst or a banker or a stylist or a truck driver or countless other professions, you don't need it.

Our education system has never taught real math. It doesn't need to. Our system has been very good at producing the 5 or perhaps 10% of people we need to do mathematical professions.

The people who pick up math are the people who are born with a natural curiosity for it and an impulse to understand it. We need these people to move into mathematical careers, but they do. These people get it on their own in spite of the math curriculum they are given. I have seen this happen when I was a teacher.. bright kids just get it.

The system, where most people never learn real math, and the things that they do learn are quickly forgotten, works just fine. Most people don't like real math, and that turns out to be OK.

I am sure that some people need to know the State Capitals and I am sure that some people care about them.
0 Replies

maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 09:12 pm
@roger,
To answer your question. I would love to see more women become engineers, scientists and mathematicians. My daughter wants to be an engineer and I couldn't be more supportive.

The girls who don't go into a field such as science, mathematics or engineering have no need for mathematics. Our society needs men and women to sell houses or build buildings or manufacture eyeglasses or cook food or to cut hair.

Cutting hair is a profession that is worthwhile. I am glad that there are people who do this and I respect them. But, I see no need for the man or woman who cuts my hair to have the ability to factor a polynomial.

Kolyo

3
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 09:28 pm
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

The girls who don't go into a field such as science, mathematics or engineering have no need for mathematics.

Personally, I'd like to see girls (and boys) who go into politics master math, and especially Statistics, before seeking elective office. But why stop there? I'd like to see a stronger understanding of math and science across the entire electorate. That was one of the past purposes of public education, to make sure voters were capable of making informed decisions.
maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 09:52 pm
@Kolyo,
"The biggest problem we have in teaching Algebra is this, when students ask us 'why do I need to know this stuff?' we don't have any good answer for them." (This is a quote from someone I worked for on a project to develop an Algebra curriculum).

Look at what is any Algebra curriculum. There are systems of linear equations, factoring polynomials, quadratic equations, function decomposition.... we can make up contrived reasons that someone might need to know any one of these things, but as I pointed out before they are lies (and students understand this).

Most Americans forget ever having learned these things soon after learning them, and I have never heard a story of someone in normal life being hurt by not knowing how to factor a polynomial.

I don't think public education had the noble purposes you say it had... public education has always met the needs of the economy (from factories to businesses). No generation of Americans has had a very good grasp of mathematics except for the minority of people who went into mathematical fields. We have always had just enough people (I would say 5% or 10%) to meet our needs.

I do agree with you about statistics... but alas, look at the recent Ebola scare and earlier equally ignorant anti-mathematical panics. I think this is an unreachable goal.
0 Replies

maxdancona

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 09:55 pm
@Kolyo,
I wonder if Hillary Clinton knows how to factor a polynomial? (And, does it really matter?)
roger

1
Mon 30 Mar, 2015 10:50 pm
@maxdancona,
Not unless she lies about it.
0 Replies

Setanta

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 12:29 am
@Thomas,
Thomas, you're as bad as Walter. Are all you German type guys subversives?
argome321

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 04:13 am
@Kolyo,
Aren't there apps for math?
0 Replies

Kolyo

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 06:50 am
@maxdancona,
maxdancona wrote:

I wonder if Hillary Clinton knows how to factor a polynomial? (And, does it really matter?)

There's not a doubt in mind she can factor any polynomial she pleases, for that woman can do no wrong!

Any fifth-degree polynomial the Republicans throw at her, whatsoever the coefficients might be, she will factor. You have my word as a Democrat.
0 Replies

2
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 07:16 am
@maxdancona,
You would be more successful in the sense - you would be less likely to be spending more than someone who used their understanding of math in most financial transactions. Think even going to buy soap - there is a variety of products -- and same products -- and they are all priced differently due to product name, size, etc. You could compare two exactly the same products - one a larger size than the other and yet one could end up costing you less in the long run because it is cheaper per pound (sometimes the smaller one is the better deal so you buy two instead).

This same thought carrys forward to buying larger products -- does it make sense to finance a car at 1% a year? Well on the surface many people may think it would be better to pay cash because they have it currently in a money market account. Now granted this would not be the case right now --- but say your money market account is earning 2% -- it would be better to leave your money in the account; take out the loan and pay out of the money market account.

Like my friend paying \$75 to do an easy form -- when if she simply read the instruction would have finished her taxes in 15 minutes.
maxdancona

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 08:02 am
We are talking apples and oranges here, Linkat.

Figuring out the price of different soaps is a good skill to have. So is having a basic understand of how APRs work. But this has very little to do with the type of math that people use to do engineering or science.

Math is an expressive language with deep ideas. Those of us who are fascinated by math spend our lunches talking about recursion, and when we here about the RSA algorithm we not only need to understand how it works, we also find people to talk about it with. Not everybody does this... in fact it is not exactly normal, but it is what math really means.

I can tell you from personal experience (at times awkward personal experience) that most people are bored by math and don't want to even talk about it.

And it is not just a matter of degree... knowing a couple of math terms or to do arithmetic is not real math any more than knowing a couple of Spanish words and phrases is real language. You need to be able to express ideas and get excited by the richness.

Honestly, very people are even interested in doing this. Most students go through the routine, they learn the formulas and they are able to plug in the numbers and turn the crank and get the result. Most student in high school can get very good grades and test scores without a real understanding of, or more importantly a love of, mathematics.

About 5% or 10% of the students do naturally gravitate to mathematics as an expression of ideas (not just a set of procedures to get the correct answer). These are the students who will actually do math and enjoy it. Fortunately 5% or 10% of people who can do mathematics is good enough for our society.

For either group, the math oriented, or the normal student... the time spent learning to factor polynomials is time wasted. This is true of many of the topics in algebra that we cram down students' throats. Most of them will never ever need to these skills.. and those that will need them will be best served figuring it out on their own.

I am going to go out on a limb here Linkat. I bet you have never owned any dice that have more than six sides, have you?
maxdancona

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 08:16 am
@maxdancona,
Let me make this clear again... this has nothing to do with gender. I work with women who enjoy making recursion jokes (and are damn good engineers to boot).

My point is that there are somewhere around 5% of people who get math. These are the people who see the expressive power and are fascinated by it.

These students learn math in high school pretty much on their own... they go through the same curriculum as all of the other students, but where normal kids see what they are being taught, a process to plug in the numbers and follow the steps to get a good grade, these ... these students somehow reach beyond the rote and see the ideas underneath.

These are the people who will go on to be mathematicians and scientists and engineers. They will need to factor polynomials and take derivatives and find eigenvalues.. and more important they will need to be able to use math to communicate new ideas to their peers.

Most people get along just fine with arithmetic. They will compare soap and refinance their mortgage... these are all things that can be done by the sixth grade. They will never need real math, and they will never be interested in real math.

But that is just fine... society works and everyone in the end can be happy whether they are a math person or not.

0 Replies

Thomas

1
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 12:12 pm
I could be an exception - might possibly be as I have a Masters degree in economics so I like to understand and figure things out.

"Exception" is a strong word, but yes, I think you (and Max, and myself) are at least in the minority here.

Some evidence: When I search the web for "most common jobs in the US", the top ten I get are: (1) Retail salespersons, (2) cashiers, (3) restaurant cooks, (4) office clerks, (5) nurses, (6) waitstaff, (7) customer service representatives, (8) material movers, (9) secretaries, and (10) janitors and cleaners. (I don't know the business website I'm linking to, but its data here is ultimately coming from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I trust in these matters.)

Among these professions, I can see several for which highschool-level math is important. But college-level math, or even advanced-placement courses in highschool? I don't really see the relevance of these for any of these ten most common professions. So I have to agree with Max: When it comes to the utility of math, he and you and I are in a smallish, non-representative minority within the overall American workforce.
0 Replies

Thomas

3
Tue 31 Mar, 2015 12:16 pm
@Setanta,
Setanta wrote:

Thomas, you're as bad as Walter. Are all you German type guys subversives?

You remind me of what Bill Maher said on his show this past Sunday about the German co-pilot who crashed the plane in the Alps: "Neightbors described him as determined, serious, if somewhat withdrawn and broody and socially awkward. Come on folks, there's a word for this; it's called 'being German'!"
InfraBlue

2
Wed 1 Apr, 2015 12:27 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

Setanta wrote:

Thomas, you're as bad as Walter. Are all you German type guys subversives?

You remind me of what Bill Maher said on his show this past Sunday about the German co-pilot who crashed the plane in the Alps: "Neightbors described him as determined, serious, if somewhat withdrawn and broody and socially awkward. Come on folks, there's a word for this; it's called 'being German'!"

The neighbors must have been French.
0 Replies

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