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      Dear Outstanding Educator,

      You would think that finding out at what time two trains will meet, if one is traveling from the west at 200mph and the other one is traveling from the East at 225mph and they were 850 miles apart at the start, would be motivation enough.

      Imagine you have to calculate the paychecks of all of the hourly staff at your school. So you create a table of each employee’s name followed by their total hours worked and their hourly rate of pay.

      Which Algebra formula is more understandable to calculate gross pay:

      z = x * y

      gross_pay = total_hours_worked * hourly_rate_of_pay

      Nowadays, having to manually calculate each gross pay has been replaced by computer formulas that calculate this in seconds. But you have to understand Algebra in order to become a programmer, for example, or to do any job that requires the use of a spreadsheet.

      My point with showing the above two formula variations is that in computer programming, making your variables easily understandable is Computer Science 101 fundamentals. If the student is on the autism spectrum, the use of abstract variables such as x and y may be a stumbling block to comprehension.

      To the question of “Why do I need to learn this?” I think opening the doors to a multitude of career possibilities is one answer.

      But it is only one of many.

      Math is the hidden secret to understanding the world


    • I agree and thank you for this reminder that math is a wonderful tool, an art of interpreting and understanding our physical world, and pushing imagination boundaries. We can see from your example how abstraction plays a huge role in it. Yet through abstraction the mind merely shapes perception so it can grasp in quantifiable ways what may appear at times indefinite and confusing problems to describe. Because correctly describing a problem is key to having it almost completely resolved (seeing the solution).

      The real life applications are so profound especially in these days when technology enables creating amazing materials and fabrications.

    • Why don't school math departments have field trips? Other school departments have them.

      If the children are taken to a math intensive real world environment and there shown how the math that they are studying is a necessity within the work environment that might help some of the students to have a paradigm shift.

    • Why don't school math departments have field trips? Other school departments have them.

      Around 2000, there was an innovate math exploration professional development video series developed by the Annenberg Foundation. It showed outstanding teachers taking their students on “math walks” throughout the neighborhood to explore math in the real world. It was brilliant and it was taking education in the direction that 19 years later we still haven’t reached. It’s what frustrates and saddens educational leaders like @dcrescitelli and @cbrownlmath tremendously. Because they know what’s missing.

      And you know what killed this math education renaissance in the early 2000s?

      No Child Left Behind

      The time that used to be there to explore in a given school year. Poof! Eaten up by incessant standardized testing. And impossible to meet expectations.

      Go on a math field trip? Not when you could use that time to practice another day for the test.

      Because curiosity isn’t measured on a standardized test. And the unspoken understanding became what isn’t measured doesn’t matter.

      Things, I believe are better since that law went away. And there are now online learning communities for math educators on Twitter via hashtags such as #MTBoS (Math Teachers in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere) and #elemmathchat.

      But even so, think of the momentum that was lost and where math education could be right now if it had continued.

      Here’s a good professional development video from Annenberg on teaching measurement.

    • I have to state a pair of caveats to you saying that NCLB as a law has gone away. First, as heinous as it was, NCLB was never law, but policy. This is a distinction with an important difference, $$$. Policy effects funding, don’t follow the policy, don’t get the funds. No one would go to jail for not following NCLB. Secondly, while the Bush administration created it, and the Obama administration tweaked but did not remove it, the Trump administration is just flat out ignoring education except to funnel more and more funds into Charters and ultimately their goal of vouchers. So NCLB now goes by the Obama administration acronym of ESSA but is largely unchanged. We cannot be too confident that whoever comes next will not make things bad again. Your vote counts.