# My problem with math

1. Apr 19, 2015

### Tyrion101

It seems often in math you are taught to do seemingly meaningless series of problems until you reach college (or actually arrive at a class where it is useful) where you find out solving for x and y does actually have a purpose, and that graphing thing you learned in high school is kind of important, maybe I wasn't paying attention in middle school or high school, but I hated math with a passion, because it felt precisely like I described, I was being told to do a bunch of things that had no real connection to me, and I didn't get an explanation of why I'd need them some day. I don't hate math as much now, but did I simply miss those lectures that explained why I was learning the stupid adding x and y and why I'd need to know this for later?

2. Apr 19, 2015

Staff Emeritus
Do you think that you should only learn things of immediate practical value?

3. Apr 19, 2015

### Tyrion101

No but I'd like to learn why I'm doing something, rather than just here is an equation here is how you solve it. Does that make any sense?

4. Apr 19, 2015

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
Only if you need the solution to the equation to apply to something else.

Analyzing projectile motion often involves solving quadratic equations. The quadratic formula comes in pretty handy in those situations.

Optimizing certain things not only involves taking the derivative, but you must set this derivative equal to zero and solve for the unknown value.

5. Apr 19, 2015

### edward

I can relate to the OP a bit. For me and in high school it was factoring complex polynomials. I think that may be overkill for a person who is going to get a degree other than is the sciences.

6. Apr 19, 2015

### SteamKing

Staff Emeritus
Would that all of our future endeavors could be known with certainty when we were in grade school, we could tailor one's educational experience so.

7. Apr 19, 2015

### edward

That is true and I appreciate your reply. My reply to the Op was partly in jest. Yet at the time when I was in high school factoring page after page of complex polynomials simply had no meaning. I remember when we were barely started on trig functions that teacher took us to the town's water tower. He showed us how to shoot an angle and then determine the height of the tower. Now that made sense. : )

I really do wish we had a test to be given in the sophomore year to decide which students would be more fitted for a trade school. And then actually have the applicable students start in the direction that many of them end up going anyway.

8. Apr 19, 2015

### Tyrion101

That's exactly my point, my whole thing is, most students might actually understand math if you actually showed them practical uses, along with the pages of meaningless equations, you shouldn't have to wait until trig 1, to discover there was a point to all that. It also didn't help that a minus sign got entire problems wrong rather than just taking a point off if you showed you could do it. Mathematics needs feedback, in some cases lots of it, otherwise you get frustrated and more frustrated because you're expected to know what it was you did wrong.

9. Apr 19, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

A lot of people get it the first time though, should an entire field of study be redone for just a few students, or do you have actual numbers showing that most people don't get it. You are making claims but not backing them up. Please back them up.

10. Apr 19, 2015

### symbolipoint

You were missing instruction for Algebra. Elementary schools tell you what things are and what to do with them but do poorly on building your conceptual understanding. This is all mostly repaired when you study Algebra 1 in high school.

11. Apr 20, 2015

### zoobyshoe

If they do, why?

I haven't found any statistics, but the percentage of students who have difficulty with math is high enough that it's of constant concern to educators:

http://www.education.com/reference/article/why-students-struggle-mathematics/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/misunderstoodminds/mathdiffs.html

https://www.louisianabelieves.com/d...handout-conceptual-understanding.pdf?sfvrsn=2

12. Apr 20, 2015

### zoobyshoe

I'm with you on this. I never had any luck getting an explanation of what we were all working toward in acquiring an apparently endless succession of procedures that only became more and more abstract. Math became overbearingly tedious. Later in life, though, whenever a practical use for math came up, I embraced it and became quite enthusiastic about it.

I think the problem might be that many grade school and high school teachers, themselves, don't understand real world applications of math. If you ask a math teacher what the use of math is, the only honest answer they can give from personal experience is that it can be used to get a paycheck for teaching it. They, themselves, don't have any experience in the careers they are supposed to be preparing you for.

13. Apr 20, 2015

### Psinter

I would like to very respectfully tell you that I don't think that's the point of OP. :) (No hard feelings)

I think the point of OP is that you are being ordered to do something and not being told why, like a soldier: just do it and that's that. And that bothers some people because it's not 1 year or 2 years that you are being ordered around and not being told why. It's 11 or 12 years of the same sad story. It feels like you waste your energy for no tangible benefit other than passing your grade. The same old sad story that never ends.
I don't think you missed them. It's just that it is so much material that at most places teachers are not given time to tell you why you are learning what you are learning or make practical exercises. Teachers are simply ordered to follow a syllabus and teach the fundamentals. Not tell you why or help you do something practical with it. If they'd do they would need more time. Time which the hiring institution doesn't give and/or pay them.

Although it is impossible for me to tell you an answer because I wasn't at your school, I don't think you lost that material you talk about (the why and practical uses) because you weren't paying attention. I think you were simply not shown to it.

14. Apr 20, 2015

### AlephNumbers

Excuse me if I don't shed a tear for all the people in the world who had access to an education.

Okay, that was a bit of a low blow. I'm sorry.

I do think that not nearly enough emphasis is put on the practical application of math.

Last edited: Apr 20, 2015
15. Apr 20, 2015

### AlephNumbers

I should clarify that I don't mean that math classes should emphasize practical application. That's for science class. I mean that in the US, I think that maybe students should have classes beginning earlier on that focus on applying the math they are learning. I couldn't take physics until my third year of high school.

16. Apr 20, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

And in many cases, don't really understand math, let alone applications of it. My evidence is somewhat dated (a short brochure from GRE titled "Interpreting Your GRE General and Subject Test Scores"). In it there's a table of average test scores of the three parts of the GRE (Verbal, Quant., and Analytical) for tests given between 1983 and 1986. The scores are broken down by intended graduate major field. Education was included among the Social Science.

In Verbal Ability the average score for Ed majors was 450 (out of 800), the lowest of the 11 major areas. The average scores ranged between 450 and 540 (Languages and other Humanities group).

In Quant. Ability, the average for Ed majors was 479, again the lowest of all 11 major areas. The average scores ranged between 479 and 674 (Engineering) with Math Sciences and Physical Sciences scoring 657 and 635, respectively.

Finally, in Analytical Ability, the average for Ed majors was 506, yet again the lowest of the 11 areas. The average scores ranged between 506 and 596 (Mathematical Sciences).

The data listed in the brochure is about 30 years old. Even so, I doubt that much has changed. I would be surprised to see much change in more current data.

17. Apr 20, 2015

### Staff: Mentor

I guess I was lucky to have taken math before the "new math" came out. The elementary school math many younger people took is not the math I took. Math in my day made sense.

18. Apr 20, 2015

### symbolipoint

Most of Mathematics was both difficult and made little sense, UNTIL the college-preparatory sequence of courses in high school, starting with Algebra 1.

19. Apr 20, 2015

### Tobias Funke

Do you have much experience with high school (now commonly middle school) Algebra 1 courses? I think you're giving them far too much credit for making sense. The books are mostly bad, the students aren't ready, and they're often taught poorly. Even "good" algebra (2?) books and courses tend to do unbelievably stupid things like "a matrix is an array of numbers, and here's how you add them, and you multiply them like this...yep, like that...now there's a soccer team that needs 12 jerseys at $15 and a basketball team that needs 14 jerseys at$12, or something, use matrices because we're in that section of the book to find the total cost."

That doesn't make sense.

20. Apr 20, 2015

### WWGD

I have had the impression that few people, not just few teachers, are good in setting the context for an explanation to make sense.

21. Apr 20, 2015

### micromass

Alright, we get a lot of people "blaming" the teachers. And sure, you're right. But let me put in a different perspective:

1) Teaching children is difficult. Really difficult.
It was 10 years ago. I was young and naive, and a local high school searched somebody to teach math. So I accepted and went to teach math for a month. For free. I had a lot of nice plans. I would show them the beauty of math. I would show them how it's applied. I would do a lot better than how my teachers taught me. So first day of school and I stood before the class and I just couldn't get them to pay attention. I would ask for attention, they would shut up for a minute and then start all over again. I had to spend half the class asking for people to pay attention. Sure, I was inexperienced, but that didn't really encourage me to go into teaching. And I'm hardly the only one, a lot of teachers quit after a year or after a few years. Some even come home crying every day. I saw much good intentions and wonderful teachers got really demotivated. I can fully understand why some people after a few years just start teaching from a standard syllabus without trying to do anything innovative.
Granted, there are some people who are good at everything: the subject matter, explaining and class managament. I truly envy those people. But I cannot do it. And I think there are few of those people as well.

So sure, you can go and blame the teachers. But take a look at yourself first. Do you always pay full attention in class? Are you always respectful? Are you motivated and do you engage with the teachers? etc.

We want teachers who are experts in their field. But wait... why would experts in the field even want to teach? The pay is much lower than what you get in industry. And the job is so immensely difficult for most people that they just give up after a few years. There is really no incentive for experts to go into teaching. I surely don't want to go into teaching for the experience I had. So what is left are people (not all of them, mind you), who really don't have much other options than to go into teaching.

2) Teaching applications is difficult
You want math to be more practical? Well, why don't you try it yourself. The issue is that most practical applications require a solid understanding of the matter and of several other matters as well. Try it: find a child who is learning multiplication and teach him/her why we care exactly. They won't get it. The same really holds for much other math (trigonometry being an outlier here). For example, I was teaching topology to my university class. And they complained that they didn't see applications of it. But I couldn't give applications! Not because I didn't know it, but because it would take out too much time, and because they weren't mentally ready for them. Maybe I'm just a lousy teacher, but teaching well is a rare skill.

22. Apr 20, 2015

### AlephNumbers

You make an excellent point.

I used to have to tell people in my English class to shut up so I could hear the teacher. One kid even started eating a thanksgiving turkey during class. I would actively encourage the teacher to give disrespectful students detentions, but he told me that that didn't work, in his experience. I don't blame him one bit for the failing grades that many of those students received.

I am lead to believe that the problem is more of a cultural one, and needs to be addressed at the familial level. Children should be taught at a young age to respect knowledge, and by extension, those with more knowledge than them. Namely, teachers. American society, from what I have experienced, places little value on knowledge compared to collectivist cultures. And it certainly shows.

23. Apr 20, 2015

### symbolipoint

What I say makes sense according to MY EDUCATION WHICH I RECEIVED. I agree that several of the textbooks that students have in the recent few years are harder to use (and not designed as well as in a few decades previous). Still, what weaknesses occur in modern textbooks is something that the teachers can remedy in the classroom - at least for junior high and high school level. High school mathematics teachers would be expected to have enough credits of their own in Mathematics to be qualified to teach the subject; they are usually graduates with degrees in any of Mathematics, Engineering, Computer Science, or nearly any physical science.

24. Apr 20, 2015

### zoobyshoe

Good points, micromass. There are, at least, two separate skills required for a teacher, "class management" being the one that must precede the other.

During my years in grade and high school, the teachers had no problem with this. It was against a background of good class management that they, never-the-less, could not connect most math to my, or anyone else's, reality. One high school algebra teacher in particular answered my query about this with the vague information that engineers use algebra a lot and then he changed the subject, which gave me the impression he had no idea what specific sorts of problems an engineer might actually be confronted with.

I feel he failed me when I was most receptive. If he could have gotten me interested in some real world engineering problem at that point, it could have lit a fire under me to be hungry for more math.

25. Apr 20, 2015

### WWGD

As a(n) (unemployed) teacher and student, I don't think much useful can be reached in this (nor, really most, if not all others) by making this into an "us against them" discussion. Not a brilliant insight, but sometimes discussions (de)evolve in this direction.

Last edited: Apr 20, 2015