rant about maths teaching

Discussion in 'Undergraduate Math' started by david, Dec 4, 2010.

  1. david

    david Guest

    I am an adult returning to college to study for a maths A-level here
    in London (UK). I didn't take it when I was young because I couldn't.

    I study maths because I need it. As an amateur programmer I often
    stumble upon maths problems and being able to solve these problems is
    often essential to the programs I try to write.

    Parents, the government and educators are trying to motivate students
    to study maths by saying it opens up more career paths than any other
    subject. They say everything in maths is self-evident and can be
    proved. Some say maths is an art. While this may motivate some to take
    up maths, the teaching does not live up to the arousal.

    Even if some take it up, they lose motivation soon after. This is
    because they cannot see how maths could be useful in real life. If
    maths really is all around us, why are they not being shown?

    Most people say maths is boring or difficult. I don't think it is.
    People fail at maths because the methods of education aren't
    effective. When I say people fail at maths I mean they grow up
    forgetting what they were taught and being unable to use maths when
    they really need it. They may have passed the exam with good marks,
    but they don't really know maths.

    This happens because teenagers are being told to memorise formulae and
    methods by rote, i.e. through repetition and without understanding how
    or why the methods work. This will certainly help them pass the exam
    but the formulae won't stay in memory for ever. It also leaves them
    with uncertainty and a displeasure for maths. Learning maths is about
    understanding not memorising and if they really knew maths, the marks
    would look after themselves anyway.

    The textbooks being used today contain more exercises than
    explanations. They are getting more colourful and now include CD-ROMs,
    but explanations are becoming more and more brief. If maths is self-
    evident, where are the proofs?

    Ask a teacher "why?" the answer is "it's just the way it is, don't
    worry about it, just memorise it and you'll pass". When they explain
    something, they don't explain it in a logical or clear way. I'm not
    saying all teachers are bad but the ones I've come across are like
    this. It takes imagination, good English and preparation to give a
    good lesson. It also takes consideration for what the student doesn't
    know, and willingness to explain the basics.
    david, Dec 4, 2010
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  2. Modern teachers don't learn mathematics. Instead they take teaching and
    at best, teaching math classes. Their motivation isn't mathematics, it's
    teaching. On the other hand, to interest students in mathematics requires
    a teacher who is genuinely interested in math.

    If all you've learned is teaching, what have you to teach?
    How many students these days like learning?
    No, they just want grades, degree, career.
    American education fails to educated. It indoctrinates.
    If you want education, take classes in Asia or learn by
    yourself using older, sensible, intelligent texts.
    That's modern teaching.
    Heaven forbid that schools raise a generation of critically thinking adults.
    It's the dummy down dunce dance. Proofs are too difficult for the
    brain washed public. Beside who needs proofs? Only mathematical
    majors in the later years.
    That's right. Who are you to question?
    The basics are don't think, do what you're told.

    the Dummy Down Dunce Dance
    Forlorn am I to scorn
    the land wherein I'm born
    whence creativity is shorn
    to fit some standard norn

    Riddle of the day. When all about you is bull shit,
    how do you extract the bull from the shit?
    William Elliot, Dec 5, 2010
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  3. david

    Peter Webb Guest

    Maybe the problem with maths is that it is so useful that maths graduates
    have great career opportunities outside of teaching. So very few people who
    are passionate about maths end up as teachers (many of them end up in IT
    which pays far better - that is what happened to me).

    However, if you love History or English literature (for example) you are far
    more likely to end up in teaching, because there aren't a whole lot of other
    career options.

    Here in Australia there has been sporadic talk of paying maths and science
    teachers more, to attract maths and science graduates back into teaching.
    Never goes anywhere because the unions are against it.
    Peter Webb, Dec 5, 2010
  4. david

    Paul Sperry Guest

    Well, that's conventional wisdom among those who don't know what they
    are writing about. It is simply not true. Typically a student intending
    to be certified to teach High School math is essentially a math major.
    The only difference is in the handful of elective courses which,
    instead of being math, are education classes.

    Paul Sperry, Dec 5, 2010
  5. On Sun, 05 Dec 2010 01:38:23 -0500, Paul Sperry
    Brian M. Scott, Dec 5, 2010
  6. Ask instead: Why do people insist that something be useful in real
    life before they are willing to study it??? The world would be a much
    poorer place if we only studied subjects that helped us put a roof
    our heads, feed our family, get us to the neighborhood drugstore, or
    provided electricity so we could be a couch potato in front of the

    What use is mastery of the balance beam? What use is a forward pass?
    What use is Shakespeare? etc. etc.

    Most people do not bother to use the things that they learned EVEN
    what was learned is useful in everyday life. Most people are just

    Allow me to point out as a practical matter that failure to learn
    makes on susceptible to (say) con men in our financial dealings. Not
    biology makes one susceptible to misleading ads about (say) dietary
    Not learning physics makes one susceptible to something that will be
    very important
    to our children: Global Warming Deniers.
    Pubkeybreaker, Dec 6, 2010
  7. I went to college after a 10 year break from school and had WONDERFUL math
    professors. I was pre-med, so I had to take certain math courses including
    college algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry and calculus, but if I had had
    time I would've taken MORE math classes, that's how good my professors were.
    They explained everything and never gave the "that's just how it is...don't
    worry about it" response.

    I should mention that was back in the '80s...I have no idea what it would be
    like now, what with math books that have accompanying CDs/DVDs, etc. I'd like to
    think there are still great math teachers/professors out there! (I'm in the US,
    for what it's worth.)
    pacific coast, Jan 7, 2011
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