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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:18 PM
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Is Algebra Necessary?

Material to discuss is here. (A NYT Opinion Page)
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:35 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Yes, Algebra is necessary.

No, higher mathematics should not be required for all courses of study.

I honestly don't know what I'd do if I didn't know algebra, although I am in engineering and embedded controls, which probably biases me heavily in my use of mathematics.

That said, algebra also has applications in finance, which is (or should be) important to everyone.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:37 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

I find it difficult to say this... but I actually understand the point he's trying to make.

To help illustrate his point, a personal story. Just a couple of weeks ago, I went back home for a long weekend (one of my cousins was getting married), and while there I went to a "trivia night" with my sister and some of her friends. They're all working on PhD's in psychology, so needless to say, they're pretty smart people. However, none of them could answer a fairly simple math/physics problem that night: "What is the name of the curve that an arrow, shot into the air takes, discounting friction?" When I told them the answer, they took my word for it and wrote it down... but they asked me if I was sure about a half dozen times before we turned in the paper.

The work incredibly smart people like that do every day doesn't require any more math then they would need to balance a check book. It can be hard for engineers and other STEM related fields to remember that. After all, we use equations and force diagrams all the time in robotics.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:44 PM
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Lightbulb Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

I tutored math for 2 years between Algebra 1 and Geometry.

One problem I've found is that most kids just see xyxyzy112+x^2(q), or a jumble of meaningless characters. Algebra is something that many students conceptualize as having no definite form, process, or structure.

A lot of students I have tutored also fail to take a broader look at equations. It seems like some students treat it as "step one, step two, step hundred threety three, answer here, repeat 50 times." I feel, though, as if most equations are generalized to begin with and the process of solving such equations means converting that generalization into a more specific form which can be used to solve the problem.

The article talks about how algebra is not necessary for most people because most people simply do not have jobs which require algebra, such as STEM jobs. This is FIRST, of course, so we know what to say about that.

I can't think of anything more to say.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:49 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Is Algebra Necessary? If it's taught poorly, as it is by most teachers, and beaten down into a series of repetitive drills that rely solely on short term memory, then no it's not necessary. However, if it's taught properly, and used as a vehicle towards higher level problem solving and analysis, then yes, it's absolutely necessary. The skills learned when algebra is taught properly come into play every day. One of my best math teachers always used to say "I'm not teaching you math, I'm teaching you how to think. Hopefully that'll be useful to you someday..."
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:50 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

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Originally Posted by Karthik View Post
Is Algebra Necessary? If it's taught poorly, as it is by most teachers, and beaten down into a series of repetitive drills that rely solely on short term memory, then no it's not necessary. However, if it's taught properly, and used as a vehicle towards higher level problem solving and analysis, then yes, it's absolutely necessary. The skills learned when algebra is taught properly come into play every day. One of my best math teachers always used to say "I'm not teaching you math, I'm teaching you how to think. Hopefully that'll be useful to you someday..."
It's also necessary for people to earn the standard of living they think they deserve in the future.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 10:54 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Quote:
However, if it's taught properly, and used as a vehicle towards higher level problem solving and analysis, then yes, it's absolutely necessary. The skills learned when algebra is taught properly come into play every day. One of my best math teachers always used to say "I'm not teaching you math, I'm teaching you how to think. Hopefully that'll be useful to you someday..."
You stole my thunder. Well said.



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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:06 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

The problem is not Algebra. Failure to pass Algebra, poorly taught or otherwise, is the symptom of a far greater cultural problem.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:07 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

What about the other side of the coin? If somebody never plans to go into a career of writing books, why should lengthy essays be required? If someone doesn't plan to become a historian, why should European History classes be taught?

It doesn't make sense. It's all part of becoming a well-rounded individual academically.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:10 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Hill View Post
What about the other side of the coin? If somebody never plans to go into a career of writing books, why should lengthy essays be required? If someone doesn't plan to become a historian, why should European History classes be taught?

It doesn't make sense. It's all part of becoming a well-rounded individual academically.
Because both of those skills apply to your ability to function as a member of society and citizen. Algebra, when viewed as a discrete skill, does not seem to be something that a typical citizen must master.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:15 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

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Originally Posted by Lil' Lavery View Post
Because both of those skills apply to your ability to function as a member of society and citizen. Algebra, when viewed as a discrete skill, does not seem to be something that a typical citizen must master.
I could go the rest of my life and have European History not be relevant at all, but I still took it. If someone is really contemplating taking Algebra out of the curriculum, the bar is being set far too low.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:16 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

"kids seem to not be doing so well in school....lets get rid of school"

That is essentially what I get from this article.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:18 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

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Originally Posted by Michael Hill View Post
I could go the rest of my life and have European History not be relevant at all, but I still took it. If someone is really contemplating taking Algebra out of the curriculum, the bar is being set far too low.
Then I suspect you're not paying enough attention to both national and international politics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Hill View Post
"kids seem to not be doing so well in school....lets get rid of school"

That is essentially what I get from this article.
That's unfortunate, because that's not at all what the article was saying.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:23 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Every high school student has whined (me included), "When will we ever need to use this?" and the answer is usually somewhere, but occluded by the piles of worksheets and textbooks which give no clue to their contents' necessity. If every student got to see math and physics being used at a UL lab or a NASA research center, and get introductory training in those fields, we could have a different story. Of course, that is impractical to do on a national scale, so teachers need to spend less time on problem number X, and more time on lab investigations and projects. Even better would be if they dropped the age-old experiments by minds long gone, and focused on something students can relate to, something making news today. I am fortunate enough to be in a school with a fantastic STEM program that also ties in to our robotics team (our lead mentor is the STEM Technology teacher), but other schools are less lucky.

I've always found math to be rewarding and pushed myself ahead in courses, but I could always see why others with less interest in the subject didn't do the same.

Think about this analogy: Do people buy cars because they love the engineering that went into them and the mechanics that make them work? Maybe you guys do, but most people don't. People learn how to use a car as a tool, and then buy cars because of what they can do for you. Mathematics (and really any school course) needs to be pitched the same way--This is how you can use math, and it will give you a fulfilling career in return. If they like it, they'll figure out the mechanics behind it too.
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Unread 07-29-2012, 11:30 PM
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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lil' Lavery View Post
Then I suspect you're not paying enough attention to both national and international politics.


That's unfortunate, because that's not at all what the article was saying.
I work for the U.S. Government in an area that deals quite a bit with foreign politics. I'd say I'd pay more than enough attention to both national and international politics.

The article is a cry for help because teachers fail to find a way to show how mathematics has practical real-life use, which is tragic because it closes the door to many opportunities for students who have unrealized passion for a technological area. A student may not grasp Algebra completely, but they may later find love for geometry or calculus. I had a similar issue with linear algebra in college. I excelled in differential equations, but some of the concepts in linear algebra can be abstract. But it was just the opposite situation for other students. Some found linear algebra to be a breeze, but struggled with calculus.

This is a direct quote from the article:
Quote:
The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nationís shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators Iíve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.
He wants to take it out to make high school easier. That's the direction he wants to go. It's all about making graduation rates higher. But graduation rates mean absolutely nothing if you learned absolutely nothing.
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