In a short essay for a Canadian newspaper, a high school math teacher reflects on his work and wonders if it’s pointless.
I also don’t feel the time I spent helping students (mostly freshmen and sophomores) understand math was “pointless”. I do disagree with with his idea of “math as a gym for the mind”, that doing math regularly “keeps the mind active” and improves abstract thinking.
Certainly there are aspects of studying mathematics that can help students develop their analytical skills, but most of what we teach in K12 classes is largely focused on memorizing and recreating canned procedures.
However, the writer of this particular piece is exactly on target with this assessment of what math education should be.
The “right” way to do mathematics is not to learn many techniques, but to solve many problems using the learned techniques.
The problem must come first. Then we discover what tools, mathematical or otherwise, are needed to solve it.
That’s how math is really used, so why not help students learn that process? Instead of the very artificial one that embodies the math curriculum in most high schools.