The debate over how and when and if algebra should be taught has been going on for a couple weeks ever since this article from the New York Times was published. Being a complete math nerd, I’ve read every blog post I’ve found about this debate, and I’d like to put in my own opinion from the perspective of a student who had no problem finishing algebra in 8th grade, but has probably read a few too many articles about the debate and pondered this question too much..
I’m going to start off with a couple statistics taken from the original post and from other websites:
- One out of four high schoolers fail to graduate from high school in America
- In certain states, nearly half of students aren’t deemed “proficient” in math
- National transcripts show that there are twice as many F’s and D’s in math than in any other subject
- According to the results of the last PISA test, America ranked 31st among 74 nations that contribute to 90% of the world’s economy in math, with a score of 487 out of 600.
- Compared to 12 other countries, America spends about 33% more per student ($7,743) more than the second-most country, (United Kingdom; $5,834) yet we still rank near the bottom for math and science PISA scores
- America spends $809.6 billion on education yearly; that fact combined with the first statistic shows that we spend around $200 billion on students that don’t graduate from high school.
I decided to take a look at a few sample math PISA questions myself to see how much algebra really was needed. Since PISA is like, really credible (great reason I know), I figured that the questions they asked would be questions that actually have real-world applications and should be what we’re technically supposed to be learning.
The test wasn’t ridiculously difficult for me, but when considering if I used anything that I learned in my algebra class last year, I have to say, I don’t think so. (It’s kind of hard to remember what you didn’t know a year before.) All you needed to know in terms of mathematical skill were how to solve simple equations and how to find the value of an expression
That really made me question why we’re required to spend a entire school year learning algebra, when pre-algebra was basically enough and we could learn about other things that probably had better applications, like statistics and economics.
And even if we did need algebra concepts, we have computers that can solve equations more accurately than any human can. Is there really a point in learning 3 different methods of solving any equation and spending hours every week solving essentially the same problem 20 times when computers can do it in an instant? These days in math, humans are just being programmed to solve different types of problems. Wouldn’t it be more effective to teach us how to program an actual computer to solve the problem as stated in this TED video and learn how to solve problems without being told every single step?
At this point, I was really thinking that algebra wasn’t really necessary. I mean, before even reading about this debate, I had a few objections. At times, I though that our teachers would be happier if we were just a bunch of robots, and if I ever got home from school and was in a bad mood and didn’t want to do any thinking, I would do my math/algebra homework because it was so repetitive that it became mindless.
Then I thought back to why I was such a math nerd in the first place, and that’s when I knew what my final opinion would be. (cheesy, I know. But true)
Mathcounts. Honestly, I can say that I learned more through Mathcounts than through Algebra. In Mathcounts, you have to figure out the process yourself instead of having a textbook tell you what to do. If you ever use a formula, you have to derive it on your own (or annoy someone until they tell you) (and then forget it the next time you have to use it) (and then annoy the person again) (and repeat until you figure it’s easier just to remember it or learn to derive it yourself or just forget about that type of question) It’s a more natural process, and it’s actually fun interesting.
Ok, you kind of forget the process like, literally after you get the answer and when you get a similar question later, you relearn it and forget it again. After 4 or 5 rounds of this, you still don’t have the process memorized, but you at least know where to start and the general direction of where to go, which is the whole point.
Through Mathcounts, I realized that problem solving isn’t being told how to solve every single type of problem in the world, because new problems constantly arise and you’ll never be done; it’s figuring out how to solve the problems that you haven’t seen before. And that’s a lot more fun.
END OF MATHCOUNTS SPIEL/SCHPEEL. But yeah, I really liked Mathcounts. (if you haven’t noticed already)
Now back to the original point. So, what is my final opinion about algebra? I think that algebra still needs to be taught because it can be used to improve problem solving skills if not directly used in real life. However, I think that if the curriculum was more problem based and the concept was given to us later, then people would be a lot less passive in class and maybe find it fun.
Maybe this is a little too math nerdy of me, but I personally would like math class a lot more if it was more like my Mathcounts practices, where everything wasn’t just told to us and we had to figure it out ourselves– do what the computers can’t do. Math is one of few subjects where that’s even possible, so why not take advantage of it? Aren’t problem solving skills what really matter in the end?
I know I strayed pretty far from the original topic, but this is my own blog, and I figured that I’d write about what I want to write about. My reasoning may have weird gaps, you may not agree with me, my ideas may not be reasonable, and please tell me if that’s the case. Just tell me if you have anything to say. This is a long post, and I honestly just want to finish it now, so…BYE!