Changing the way we teach math

Photo by Brenda Lin

I like math, I really do. I do not, however, like the way we are forced to learn math.

This week, I had to call my mother, a middle school math teacher, to ask her  what the quadratic formula was.

Now, I know what the quadratic formula is. I know when to use it. I know how to use it. I just could not for the life of me remember where the 4ac went. Do you want to know why I could not remember? Because other than the once-every -five-year problem when I need to factor some complicated equation, no one ever uses the quadratic formula. Do bankers use it? Do engineers use it? Do calculus professors us it? Heck, I don’t even think  professional factor-ers would use it. I mean, we have Ti-89’s for a reason, guys.

So why exactly did we spend months, maybe even years, of our middle school lives memorizing and rememorizing a nearly useless formula?

Or a better question would be, why were we not using that time and effort to learn parts of math that would later be useful or relevant or even just used more than once in our entire adulthoods.

I do not mean to come across as whiny; I just believe that my issue with the quadratic formula is a good example of a larger problem within the American teaching system.

And no, I’m not talking about the battle with the Common Core or the differences between public and private school. What I believe is that we need to change the way math is viewed as a subject in America.

Often, in school, and even at Tech, math seems like mindless work that is meant just to get through.

But this is a failing. Math is important and useful and should not be a bunch of near meaningless numbers that highschoolers cram into their brains before an AP test.

There are several easy (well, seemingly easy) solutions to this predicament. Schools could focus on math that will be useful in the students’ futures— such as how does one calculate their expected taxes and how much is too high of an interest rate and how much should an apartment rent be, based on one’s income? Math is a huge part of adulthood and honestly that is the math I do not know.

I would like to see changes beyond that. I would like to see, and I hope to one day see, a change in the way Americans view math.

There is no reason for students to be afraid of math. There is no reason for thousands of smart students to become baristas in part because they think calculus or statistics is too hard. The problem is not the difficulty of  the subject, it is the difficulty we create in teaching it.

For now, I will rest easy knowing I will most likely not have to use the quadratic formula for years … well, probably ever.