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The World Doesn’t Need Another Math Textbook
I know the words are strange. Some of you may think that I have declared the end of civilization as we know it. How in the world can people learn math without the latest and greatest math textbook. The answer is simple. In the same way people have always been learning math before modern education, by doing math in their daily life. You may ask “Is it possible?” “Would that work?” I believe so. That is why I said these words when I was asked if my new book, “Math is Child’s Play” will be a Math Textbook. But in 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. More and more people say they hate math, ‘don’t know math,’ they worry about basic math. These same people were taught math in our public schools. When did this math problem start? Who knows for sure? But the most important thing is that it is increasing, not decreasing. It is increasing even the system of modern education, even the New Mathematics and the latest methods of teaching, even all the money and energy invested in this problem. Just to remember, I found a book called “Mathematics; A Human Endeavor” by Harold R. Jacobs copyrighted in 1970 in which the author mentions the failure of New Mathematics in schools. A 1964 book called “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” by Ralph Crouch and George Baldwin was written to teach mathematics to elementary school teachers who found themselves having to teach mathematics even though they had no background in mathematics.
Marilyn Burns, a well-known mathematician, has been addressing math anxiety since 1970 with her first book, “I Hate Mathematics” to her current book, “Math; Facing an American Phobia” in 1998. anxiety as a growing phenomenon. And recently “Math for the Anxious” written by Rosanne Proga, copyrighted 2005 is also clear about math anxiety and its causes. Yes, all math worries are good; at least with accounting firms. Math worries sell math books. Parents are concerned that their children are doing better in math than they are. Teachers want a better way to teach math. This is good news for accounting firms. For you and me, this is bad news.
So let’s look at the other side. Is it possible for people to learn mathematics in everyday life; running their business or home, doing work, etc.? Is this possible? I believe it is and it is already happening without anyone knowing. My daughter said she hates math, yet she does math every day on Neopets. When I asked him about this, he said that it is not real math. So what was the math? I think he meant it wasn’t ‘school math.’ I met a pilot who explained a lot about the calculations he did in his head to fly the plane. Then he said that he hated math at school. He was not ‘good at it.’ He couldn’t even balance his check. When I pointed out to him that the calculations he made to fly the plane were math, he confirmed that it wasn’t because he didn’t do well in math at school. He said “It’s the only way I connect numbers.” Marilyn Burn tells a similar story of an interior decorator who bought the price of an entire room, and found out that she was not good at math. These are people who haven’t finished ‘school math’ but are doing the math that their daily lives require of them. They may have learned this math on the job; therefore they are not related to school mathematics.
Mathematics is best learned in the real world, with real life situations. It might start with counting the cookies your mom gives you. Then you start comparing the number you have with the number your brother got. You quickly learn to calculate what they got ‘by how much’ more than what you got, so that your complaints are accurate. Next, you see Mom cutting a pie or a cake. You quickly count how many pieces each person can have, until Mom walks in and tells you how many you can have. Then you calculate how much you will have tomorrow after all the guests are gone. This is a real-world scenario, but it’s a lot of mathematical concepts that I’ve explained here. These skills grow with your children. How many of you have seen your older children go through their Halloween candy? My son chooses and counts to evaluate his performance. Halloween is a great time to teach about taxes. Parents should take their share of the sweet benefits, not the sweets that the child does not like. Remember, Uncle Sam cuts his tip before you see a dime.
Playing is a great way to learn math. I like miniature golf and billiards to learn about angles and power. Of course this would sound like Physics, Newton’s Law of Relativity. And so it is, but there is no better way to learn geometry and algebra than to use it effectively. What could be more useful than learning while playing? Wow, here is another real life example of learning math. I like to play games. You name it; 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. Games like Uno, Skip-bo, Set, Rummikub help children to develop their ability to see patterns. Games like cribbage, gin rummy, Scrabble really help children to try addition and multiplication.
But enough with the games, let’s talk about the serious. If you want to learn math, do something like decorating a room. Do all the work from counting paint or paper, counting materials and sewing curtains, ordering and placing furniture. Plan your new kitchen cabinet layout, including calculating cabinet size, appliance space and project costs. Try making something like a drop-down desk or a game console, or a cart. How about making a baking or sewing project? Make all the arrangements for the dinner party, including preparation, shopping, seating, cooking, etc. Start an eBay business. Wow! Wouldn’t it be something, turning your child’s math into a home business that pays for your child’s college education? It is possible and it is real life.
When it comes to learning math, everyday life has many opportunities and learning is natural, not forced. On the other hand, the problem of mathematics is rooted in our modern education. The problem lies in non-mathematicians teaching mathematics as if they were experts. The problem is with math textbooks that write math in an abstract and inconsistent way. As much as I loved Marilyn Burns’ book, “Math; Facing an American Phobia,” I think she missed the right end of the story. Mrs. Burns is still trying to ‘fix’ the system. It’s clear 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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