February 13, 2010
I was really excited to stumble upon the A+ Click math skills exercise library. I’ve long asserted that what has been needed for so many math learners is a source of endless drills, an inexhaustible reserve that would keep a fresh supply of problems at the fore. What a crime to remember the 2 or 3 “extra practice” problems at the end of each math chapter in the texts I was given as a math student….just a little more practice could have turned a reluctant student into a competent one. Or so I thought. While I started off with the “Grade 8″ problem set which focused on “word problems” such as those I remembered from algebra involving ticket sales for theatre groups (how many tix do you have to sell to show a profit if your fixed costs are x) and ways to use a fibonacchi sequence (if 10 people shake hands with each other only once, how many hand shakes are there?) I was surprised to see how quickly those rather fun and somewhat useful exercises took a dark turn towards hellishness with problems involving more obscure formulas and measurements (circles, polygons, angles etc) which I am really surprised anyone these days thinks that anyone else would need to know. Why memorize the formulas for finding areas or circumference or anything along those lines? It was as if I were immersed in the middle of mid 19th century society where the elite were deemed the gatekeepers of knowledge because they had memorized a definite body of knowledge which entitled themto be called “educated”. I really had hoped math had moved beyond this holding pattern. If I were a math student today, I would expect all of those formulas to be at my fingertips, to be posted right next to the problem I was working on. As I am a lifelong student today, I would seek out learning material that would focus on things like how to form a useful representation of a problem so that you could solve it. How to pull in all the needed formulas, materials etc at the onset so that a problem could be worked easily. I’d also like to see more “real life” examples of problems. Does that fibonacchi thing ever occur anywhere? if not, there must be a good reason to need to know about it, and what would that be? Is anyone out there taking a different approach to math education? And I’m not talking about team math or atever some of the more touchy feely angles have been. If we’re trying to build a nation of problem solvers, of people who can see and respond to actual needs, of self-starters who can create and envision and bring about much better worlds than the one we live in, then I would want those people to know how to do something more than memorize a formula. I’ll keep looking for math resources that move all of us along that path.