Friday, October 10, 2014

Maths is More Than the Search for Answers

I often wonder why it is that so many people are convinced that maths is nothing more than the search for answers. Sometimes it is even seen as the search for right answers.  Usually, I don't wonder for long as I soon realize it is because we teach math, especially at the elementary school, as a problem solving or problem based activity.

For some reason we seem, as a profession, or perhaps even as a culture, incapable of seeing the study of math as anything more than a closed endeavor in which the one correct answer is the ultimate, prized goal. Sadly, I fear things are not going to get much better as we rush headlong back into the "high-stakes" testing frenzy that seems to afflict our Education system every decade or so. Tests, especially written ones, and especially those administered through computers and scored thousands of miles away thrive on the selection and use of right answer, problem-based questions.

There is so much we can learn in math that we can do for the sheer pleasure and joy of discovering patterns and relationships in the world. We can find all sorts of interesting and intriguing mathematical relationships such as the Fibonacci sequence, in entities in the real world that are just a joy to behold. Even things as mundane as multiplication facts can be learned through the number patterns that the multiples make. Just think about the 9s for example. 9, 18, 27, 36, 45, 56, 63, 72, 81, 90, 99, 108, (if you must go to 12). The digits in each number add up to 9, the digits in the ones place increase by 1 each time, the digits in the tens place decrease by 1 each time. Isn't that amazing. You can always tell if a number is divisible by 9 if the digits add up to 9 ( 1,672,947 is but 1,284, 982 isn't). And don't you think it's neat when you see five red cars in a row of traffic or 3 people in a crowd rearing identical clothing?

So much of maths, or quantitative literacy, is simply appreciating numerical relationships and has nothing to do with finding answers or solving problems. 

No comments:

Post a Comment