Math? Who Needs It?

A British "maths" expert says that students shouldn’t be required to study math after the age of 14.

Maths is jolly important for some people but it’s a minority," he told BBC News Online. "We pretend it’s very important for everyone, but it’s not. It’s a very technological world and the average person is not going to need it. "They need to know how to add up, but they won’t need quadratic equations in the rest of their life. "On the whole children don’t see maths as relevant and many have learned all the maths they need by the age of 11."

Contrast that opinion (of course not everyone in British education agrees) with the growing movement to require students to pass a basic Algebra class to graduate. Twenty-one states now mandate the class to earn a diploma, accompanied in many by the every popular standardized test.

I have to side with those advocating Algebra for everyone – but not in the form of the standard class that most students traditionally take in their Freshman year of high school. The concepts of Algebra should be part of math in just about every year of elementary and middle school. By starting early and building the concepts systematically over the years students would develop a much better understanding of Algebra than many now do when it’s stuffed into one year.

The other advantage to a developmental approach over time is that when students do take a true "beginning" Algebra class they should be ready to tackle the applications of mathematics and not just the rote memorization of algorithms that still tends dominate Algebra instruction. Knowing how to factor a quadratic expression is useless unless the student also know why they would want to do it in the first place.