As any math teacher will tell you, one of the most common questions students ask is:
“When will I use (enter math skill here) in real life?“
It can often be one of the hardest questions to answer too.
Because most students see right through the classic “real world applications” that have been part of math lessons forever.
You know the type. If train A leaves at 10am, and train B leaves at 10:30, blah blah blah.
Am I right?
Before joining the Edublogs team, I taught just about every math course there is between pre-Algebra and AP Calculus (inclusive). I’m a true math nerd, have a degree in math, and would like to think I was a pretty decent math teacher. I’d work hard to provide my students with meaningful problems, projects, and learning experiences.
But I’d sometimes get in trouble (had at least one parent complain to my principal) for my honest answer to my students when I got the “when will I use this” question.
I told the truth.
Here’s what I said.
“You probably won’t ever use it again outside of math class.”
The specific skills being taught, like solving a quadratic equation or understanding the Polar coordinate system, are just not commonly needed in most jobs or in everyday life.
But that isn’t why we learn mathematics, and certainly isn’t why I am excited by teaching it.
We learn math in school to practice logical reasoning. Math is the language of science. True math is an art. Math is exceptional at teaching us how to follow rules, discover relationships, problem solve, and organize thoughts and ideas. I could go on and on.
In short, we don’t learn math for the actual concepts and skills being taught.
This is where many policy makers make a mistake. For example, my home state of Texas was so horrified that the US is so behind the rest of the world in math education, that the solution was to require all students to take more math courses. Interestingly, recently there’s more debate on dialing that back and requiring fewer traditional math courses. It has all been quite an efficient use of time and resources to say the least.
A better approach would be to improve the courses we already have by working to make them more relevant, present students with problems that appeal to our inner-curiosity and that they want to solve, which would motivate students to achieve at higher levels.
But how do we do that?
Hour of Code and CS Education Week
And today it hit me, as I’m sure is already being done by many, that the math classroom is the perfect place to introduce programming basics.
Sadly, and please correct me if I’m missing it, but I didn’t see any real mention of math on the Code.org site or any of the linked tutorials and lessons. This is a shame because the math classroom would be a perfect place to introduce coding concepts to students not enrolled in a traditional computer science course.
Coding Ideas In the Math Classroom
The first program I ever wrote, in 8th grade, was just a few lines on the TI-81 graphing calculator to solve the quadratic formula. This way I could check my work easily on tests (and maybe cheat a little on homework).
Now that I think about it, there are a ton of ways that coding could and should be brought into the math classroom on a daily basis.
- output and printing to screen teaches concepts like Cartesian plotting, graphing functions and conics
- using the logic of loops, if, else, etc to teach principals of proofs
- number sense – integers, floating/rounding, and how using the wrong data type effects programming
- writing simple programs to solve the quadratic formula, the midpoint theorem, and more – automating the wrote memorization processes we’ve been drilling and killing for years
- *have more ideas, leave a comment below and I’ll add to this list*
What’s Your Point?
There’s a growing movement to require more computer science education in schools.
But perhaps we can leverage the subjects we already teach to engage students and introduce them to coding ideas in a systematic way.
Much of this is already done in pockets. But the required standards and curricula (I’m looking at you, Common Core), have yet to build in coding principals and experiences.
I’d love to see the heavy influencers encourage integrating computer science and coding theories into existing courses at younger ages (could also be science class, and other subjects too), instead of the stronger calls for additional computer science courses in high schools.
Much like education should be much more about learning experiences than learning outcomes, teaching coding to younger grades should be more about logic and bigger concepts than it is a specific language.
There’s a ton of hubbub out there about “learning to code”. I submit that we don’t all need to learn to code, per se, but we can leverage the engagement and excitement around coding to bring math and other concepts to life. All while laying the foundations to make coding more accessible to all.
But Math Teachers Can’t Code!
One of the most common obstacles we hear about why schools don’t teach computer science is that there aren’t enough qualified educators out there to meet the demands.
But there’s a trained army of math teachers out there willing to find new and better ways of delivering their content, that with a small amount of preparation could no doubt be leading the way.
So, how can we make time in their curricula and schedule to make it happen?
*Featured Image: Calculator