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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 am announcing the end of civilization as we know it. How in the world do people learn math without the latest and greatest math textbook. The answer is simple. The same way people always learned math before the modern education system, doing math as they go about their daily lives. You may ask “Is it possible?” “Work?” I believe so. That is the reason I made this statement when I was asked if my new book, “Math is Child’s Play” is going to be a math book. But in all fairness, let’s look at both sides, school math vs. everyday math.
First, let’s look at school math. I have been studying the topic of math anxiety of late. A growing number of people profess to hate math, to be “not good at math,” to be anxious to do basic math. These same people taught math in our public schools. When did this math anxiety situation start? Who knows for sure? But what is significant is that it is increasing, not decreasing. It is growing despite the modern educational system, despite New Math and the latest teaching methods, despite all the money and energy that have been put towards the problem. Just for the record, I found a book “Mathematics; A Human Endeavor” by Harold R. Jacobs copyrighted in 1970 that in his preface the author mentions the failure of New Math in schools. A book from 1964, entitled “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” by Ralph Crouch and George Baldwin, which was written to teach mathematics to elementary teachers who find themselves expected to teach mathematics even if they have no training in mathematics.
Marilyn Burns, a well-known math expert, has addressed math anxiety from 1970 with her first book, “I Hate Mathematics” to her most recent book, “Math; Facing an American Phobia” 1998. L The last book is about mathematics. anxiety as a growing phenomenon. And more recently “Math 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 it is for the math book industry. Math anxiety sells math books. Parents are concerned that their children are learning math better than they are. Teachers are asking for a better way to teach math. This is great news for math book companies. For you and me, this is bad news.
So let’s look at the other side. It is possible for people to learn mathematics in everyday life; managing your business or family, doing projects, etc.? Is it possible? I believe it is and has already happened without anyone knowing about it. My daughter professed to hate math, but she does math every day on Neopets. When I asked him, he said it wasn’t real math. So what kind of math was it? I thought he meant it wasn’t “school math”. I met an airplane pilot who went into great detail about the calculations he did in his head to fly the airplane. He later professed that he hated math in school. She wasn’t “good at it.” He wasn’t even able to balance his own checkbook. When I pointed out that the calculation she did to fly the plane was math, she was adamant that it wasn’t because she wasn’t good at math in school. She said “It’s just a formula I put numbers into.” Marilyn Burn tells a similar story about an interior decorator who could estimate the cost for a complete room, but also felt she wasn’t good at math. These are people who may not be able to do “school math”, but they do the math that their daily lives ask of them. They probably learned this math on the job; therefore, they do not relate to school mathematics.
Math is best learned in the real world, with real life situations. You could start by counting the cookies your mom gives you. Next you start comparing the number you have with the number your brother has. Quickly learn to calculate the “how much” more than you did, so your complaint can be accurate. Next, you’re watching mom cut the cake or pie. Quickly calculate how many pieces each person can have, that is until Mom comes in and tells you how many you can actually have. Then calculate how much you can have tomorrow with all those guests gone. This is a simple real-life scenario, but how many math concepts do I cover here. These skills will grow with your children. How many of you have seen your older children go through their Halloween candy? My son draws and counts to assess how he did. Halloween is also a good time to teach about taxes. Parents need to take their share of candy earnings, and not just candy that the child does not like. Remember, Uncle Sam takes his cut off the top before you ever see a dime.
Playing is a great way to learn math. I like miniature golf and pool to learn angles and strength. Of course, this may sound like Physics, Newton’s Law of Relativity. And it is, but there is still no better way to learn geometry and algebra than with a practical application. What could be more practical than learning while playing? Wow, here’s another real life example for learning math. I like to play. The name; board games, card games, strategy games. If it challenges me and tests my intelligence and problem solving skills, I like it. Games like Nim, checkers, chess, mancala, Stratego, Battleship, Risk, etc. help develop logical sequences and strategy. Games like Uno, Skip-bo, Set, Rummikub help children develop their ability to see patterns. Games like cribbage, gin rummy, Scrabble really help kids practice addition and multiplication.
But enough with the games, let’s talk about serious things. If you want to learn math, do a project like decorating a room. Do the whole work from the calculation of the paint or the wallpaper, to the calculation of the material and the sewing of the drapes, to the arrangement and the position of the furniture. Design a new cabinet layout for your kitchen, including calculating cabinet dimensions, appliance placement and project costs. Try building something like a desk or a play swing, or a cart. How about doing a baking or sewing/quilting project? Make all the preparations for a dinner party, including planning, shopping, arranging chairs, cooking, etc. Try trading some stocks and follow them for a year. Start an eBay business. Wow! Wouldn’t it be great to have your child’s math project turn into a home-based business that pays for your child’s college education? It is possible and it is real life.
When it comes to learning mathematics, everyday life has many opportunities and learning is natural, not forced. On the other hand, the problem of mathematical anxiety is rooted in our modern educational system. The problem is having experts who are not mathematicians teaching math as if they were experts. The problem is having math books that present math in an artificial and rigid way. As much as I liked Marilyn Burns’ book, “Math; Faces an American Phobia”, I think she missed the correct conclusion of the situation. Ms. Burns is still trying to “fix” the system. It’s obvious to me that it’s time to ditch the system and get back to learning math in everyday life. So I stand by my statement “The last thing the world needs is another math book.”
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