Ray's Readings: Mathematics more important than ever
June 17. 2014 2:06PM
The need for a background in the mathematical sciences, mathematics, statistics and computer science is greater now than ever before. Indications are that future generations will be living in a more mathematics- and science-oriented society than we are today. How do we prepare individuals to live productive lives in such a society, and how do we prepare individuals to be our scientific leaders? Due to rapid changes in technology, we cannot learn all the mathematics that needed for the rest of one’s life. Yet one can learn enough mathematics to develop an attitude and build a foundation so new and different mathematics can be learned.
Through good teaching and course selection one can develop both attitudes and foundations for future learning. The foundation for algebra is gained by a thorough understanding of arithmetic, a good understanding of algebra builds a major portion of a foundation for trigonometry, and understanding geometry and calculus established a foundation for many areas of more advanced mathematics and science.
The school must decide for whom, where and at what level this foundation should be established. Many times, schools omit steps in the mathematical process as not essential to building sound mathematical foundation.
All students should possess a good background in arithmetic and simple geometry by the time they reach the eighth or ninth grade. All high school students should acquire the knowledge and skills to be an intelligent consumer. Course work in business mathematics, simple probability and statistics should enable one to read and interpret a vast amount of statistical type of literature and to cope with the daily business world. Everyone should be exposed to computers and gain some understanding of their role and usage. Preferably, one should know at least one programming language and how to use computer software.
The next emphasis should be on algebra. The understanding of algebra and algebraic manipulation skills should be developed to the fullest extent possible. If one decides not to study algebra, one has at that time decided not to pursue college careers in most areas. A student taking only one year of high school algebra will have difficulty pursuing a career in all the sciences, medical sciences, agriculture, engineering, business and some areas of social sciences. If one has a good understanding of algebra, which one should be able to acquire with two years of high school algebra, one has kept the door open to most careers.
There are remedial mathematics courses at the college level but even if the students take these courses and pass them, the course cannot be used towards the baccalaureate degree. Passing these courses only allows entrance into the baccalaureate program. Students, their parents, teacher and guidance counselors need to know this and need to know that decisions made at the eighth or ninth grade level may affect their entire life. The easy way is not always the best way. Students may close the door to many career opportunities by not getting a sufficient mathematics background.
Throughout the K-12 mathematics program, emphasis should be on problem solving techniques, applications to real life problems, verbal problems, estimation, critical thinking and developing good thought processes. These areas should not be given just lip service, but very seriously taught.
Most students take two years of algebra and one year of geometry. Although other configurations of courses are possible, it is highly recommended, and my belief, that mathematics also be required during senior year.