Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mark on Math

As many of you don't know...what with most of you just meeting me for the first time and all...I am currently an Undergrad in the school of Math at Purdue who is pursuing a degree in Math Education (because, frankly, it's running away from me and I really want to catch it.)

What this means, for those of you who are not both studying at Purdue OR in a secondary education major, is that I am a Math student who is forced to take six relatively perfunctory education classes in addition to nearly ALL the math classes.

As a result of this particularly rigorous number of math classes (and a few awesome ones I've taken just for the lulz), I've been given a very good understanding of what is necessary to come into these classes and not leave the room crying every day. Let's just say, I didn't have a very excellent background in Math before I came to Purdue and started off on my path to become a math teacher (after, of course, a year and a half detour through the Chemical Engineering department. *sadface*).

Granted, my Calculus and Trig. skills are fantastic, my Algebra skills are awesome, and my Geometry skills are...well, not awesome but I made it through the class and, by the end, had totally made up for the terrible beginning.

“But...but Mark!” You say. “Isn't that Math?”

Well...sort of.

Those things are the sum total of Math in the same way that taking baking soda and vinegar and mixing them together is chemistry.

Sure...these are things you do IN math and things that require math but what is missing is the theoretical aspect.

WHY do these things do what they do? Why does the Calculus do what it is supposed to?

This part of math is called “Analysis.” It mostly consists of “Proofs.” That is to say, the mathematic reasoning behind a given theorem.

The problem is that back in high school (and it seems most high schools nowadays) provide little to no actual analysis backing...specifically because of how state standards are set up. In order to continue functioning as a school, its students must score at certain levels on their standardized tests. As a result, teachers don't always have the option of including logical reasoning and proof as a part of their curriculum.

This is really freaking sad.

To me, this strips Math of all of its science! There is no inquiry. It's just become history with numbers.

This next semester, I will be teaching a class here at Purdue. MA 153 for those in the know and Algebra and Trigonometry I for those who aren't.

I fully intend to sneak in as much logic and reasoning as I possibly can. My students will not just know WHAT they're doing, but I'll actually explain to them WHY they're doing what they're doing and WHERE it comes from so they can understand HOW to do it on a higher level than they might were they just to get equations and algorithms thrown at them.

Until later, this is Mark signing off!

This is post 24 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.


  1. Analysis is FUCKING AWESOME!

    yeah. Dunno what else to add.

  2. So Mark, when I have residents coming to me crying about MA153, should I have them come find you?

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  4. @ jemand

    Damn fucking skippy.

    @ Mike

    Actually, yes...but if they're actually crying, first slap 'em around a little bit and tell them to suck it up. =D

  5. There is a class for algebra and trigonometry in college now? I always thought it belongs to the high school or junior high curriculum or a fun math class for business students.

  6. @ Egoist Paul
    Nowadays, even many of the social sciences require a high regimen of Mathematics. Mostly Stats classes et. al. but in order to get to the level where you are ready for Stats, you need to be proficient in Algebra. (Specifically stuff like combinatorics) This class is basically Semester One of Precalc.

    At Purdue, you need to have a certain level of Math skills to be able to take Calculus I. For people who they haven't taught THEMSELVES, there might be certain things that were neglected in class or not explained satisfactorily in a way that the school would be comfortable letting them take Calculus.

  7. Hah! I know a guy who was in that same program a couple of years ago... until the student teaching made him realize he didn't want to be a teacher.

    What are the differences between the math and math education majors? You make it sound like very little... I was in the physics program at Purdue and I know the physics education people took barely more than half of the physics that the non-ed people did (of course, after going through the entire physics program, I THEN decided I really wanted to teach, requiring more classes after graduation, but no one said that *I* was smart...)

  8. My roommate is a math teacher. Went through that sort of thing. He has the same complaints. He's been trying to teach me math, and I've been trying to teach him critical thinking.

    So far, it's working out pretty well.

  9. As a note: I had a college algebra teacher require proofs of us. I found them extremely difficult to learn concurrently. It actually turned me off to the sciences/maths because I felt inadequate.

    Not to say that you'll do this, just throwing in my two bits of experience.

  10. @Ian

    The difference in the curriculums is so small I was almost going to double major...even with the year and a half that I was behind. Enough classes double-counted that I would not have spent that much time extra.

    HOWEVER. The thing that made it so I couldn't do it soon enough was the General Education requirements...Unlike with Math Ed, in Math, you need four consecutive semesters of a foreign language. Math Eds only need 2. I had tested out of my first year of Spanish before I came to Purdue and was really lucky that I made it that far. I haven't taken Spanish since my Sophomore year of high school.

    As a result, I'd have needed two years of a NEW language, or I'd have to start in Spanish III after not taking it for 5 years...So I opted out of the double major.

  11. @FUG

    I have no intention of requiring them to present ME with proofs, but I will be deriving as much as I can for them so they can see WHY everything is what it is.

    On tests, I will make sure that they show their work in a detailed manner, though.

    In Math, just like every other science, the answer is irrelevant. It is how you achieved that answer. The process is all that matters. The answer is just the byproduct.