# Redesigning Mathematics Curriculum, thoughts?

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Here is a nice question: "Is every bounded continuous function uniformly continuous?" If all you know of uniform continuity is the symbolic logic, you won't be able to solve this. If you have the intuition, then it becomes rather easy.

I come at this from a MUCH lower level. I taught high school math, mostly to kids who would not be using math in their daily lives after graduation.

I. Aspects of math that people NEED to know:
a. Basic numeracy: Estimating. While I don't think that being able to multiple 27 * 42 in your head is essential, I think that all people should be able to see that it's somewhere around 30 * 40 = 1200. So if you get .6something on your calculator, you hit the wrong key. Part of this is making reasonable assumptions. Problems like this can be fun: How many piano tuners are in Chicago? Goal is to get within 1 order of magnitude of the right answer.
b. How to lie (and detect liars) with statistics. At least average, and standard deviation. Always ask "Percent of what?"

Do most people need algebra? Geometry? I'm not persuaded.

II. Formal logic and logical fallacies.
Not sure that I would go to symbolic logic in high school, but I'd go at least for recognizing common fallicies, and the the normal way to use logic in discourse.
At present logic is not taught in most curriculum.

III. Creation and interpretation of graphs.

deskswirl, Beanyboy and Andy Resnick
Let us not forget the brain development of learners, most are limited to concrete and in later life develop a capacity for abstract thinking.

Psychology of learning gets lost in debates about which math topic and what sequence.

Psychology of learning and what age stage to introduce abstraction should inform syllabus IMO.

Math academics are some of the last people I would consult re school math curriculum, no offence.

deskswirl and Beanyboy
Mark44
Mentor
Regardless, I argue calculus/analysis should be taught using logic notation and formal proofs.

Watch how fast the engineering departments pull their students out of there and start teaching calculus themselves.
This is a very good point, one that the OP is probably not aware of. I estimate that I taught somewhere between 50 and 100 classes in calculus in my nearly 20 years of college teaching. The vast majority of the students in those classes were planning to go into engineering of some kind. I would also estimate that no more than 5% of my students would go on to pursue a degree in mathematics, and even that percentage could be an overestimate.

I agree that if calculus classes were taught using logic notation and formal proofs (or worse, metaphysics, as the OP has pushed for a couple of times), engineering departments would soon start their own calculus courses.

With regard to analysis courses, all the ones I took as an undergrad were completely proof based. AFAIK, this is how things are done in most university math departments, so I don't see the point of the OP's recommendation with regard to analysis courses.

S.G. Janssens
Whooh dude.
##5 + 3 = 5 + 5 + 5 \pmod{7}##.

Here is what I'd do if I could.

I think that the "New Math" got it backward. At least in the earlier years, I'd introduce math concepts in a quasi-empirical fashion. I'd also end the segregation of subjects, end spending 1 year on algebra, 1 year on geometry, 1 year on trigonometry, and the like. Each year, I'd teach a mixture of math topics, starting at simple ones and moving to more complicated ones. I'd start with simple versions of algebra and geometry and statistics, and move to more fancy ones in later years. I'd go slow on Euclidean-geometry constructions, but I'd get into coordinate systems and analytic geometry rather heavily, complete with making lots of graphs. As to reasoning, I'd teach the difference between deduction and induction, and how induction when treated as deduction is a fallacy: affirming the consequent.

I like the idea of education being tracked, so one can teach more advanced math in a "math and science" track. Stuff like infinite sets, formal logic, abstract algebra, and the like. One can introduce group theory with symmetries of physical objects like flowers, to have something easy to picture.

deskswirl and micromass
Tell you what Mr. Rainbird, I'll have a go at what you're proposing and I'll check back with you to let you know how I'm getting on. I'm a teacher, background in the Arts, speaker of 3 languages other than English and currently trying my hand at AP Chemistry and Physics, primarily with Khan Academy. I'm fascinated by the linguistic elements of learning, semantics etc and recently thought I'd buy a tee-shirt which said "I speak Physics". Currently, I'd say I'm functioning at 8th/9th grade level Math. So, where do you propose I jump in? I'm impressed by your passion and erudition, let's see where we can take this.

I at least agree with OPs comment on hating not knowing the "why" of the various algebra I did throughout my education--literally all of my math teachers would give me a set of rules to follow to get a correct answer (and indeed, sometimes I would intuit how I got to that correct answer through dutifully following the steps to get there) but they would never go into how those steps were pioneered--what bits of logic justified using those steps. Not educated enough to say whether the OP is right or wrong, but I do tend to respect micromass's opinion as far as intuition and clear & concise learning go. I can definitely see it being a problem going the way of OP for many students. I think what we're all not mentioning enough is diversity of preference for learning--I'm sure there are some who would prefer OPs approach for their personal learning, but certainly just as much (probably much more) who would hate having to delve into the abstraction and the rigorous logic before actually learning the specific math.

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I literally all of my math teachers would give me a set of rules to follow to get a correct answer (and indeed, sometimes I would intuit how I got to that correct answer through dutifully following the steps to get there) but they would never go into how those steps were pioneered--what bits of logic justified using those steps.

That is a valid criticism of the curriculum. I think there are a lot of things wrong with the math curriculum in high school. Teachers giving you a set of ruls that you would have to follow without thinking, that's not math. It's anti-math. So that will definitely need to change. But I'm not sure that abstract and symbolic logic is the answer here...

You might enjoy this, which I more or less agree with: https://www.maa.org/external_archive/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf
A point of view of education that I 100% agree with is Arnold's: http://pauli.uni-muenster.de/~munsteg/arnold.html

deskswirl, Andy Resnick and AaronK
Here is what I'd do if I could.

I think that the "New Math" got it backward. At least in the earlier years, I'd introduce math concepts in a quasi-empirical fashion. I'd also end the segregation of subjects, end spending 1 year on algebra, 1 year on geometry, 1 year on trigonometry, and the like. Each year, I'd teach a mixture of math topics, starting at simple ones and moving to more complicated ones. I'd start with simple versions of algebra and geometry and statistics, and move to more fancy ones in later years. I'd go slow on Euclidean-geometry constructions, but I'd get into coordinate systems and analytic geometry rather heavily, complete with making lots of graphs. As to reasoning, I'd teach the difference between deduction and induction, and how induction when treated as deduction is a fallacy: affirming the consequent.

I like the idea of education being tracked, so one can teach more advanced math in a "math and science" track. Stuff like infinite sets, formal logic, abstract algebra, and the like. One can introduce group theory with symmetries of physical objects like flowers, to have something easy to picture.
Speaking of "tracking", do you think an organization like Khan Academy could provide us with useful data on what people learn and how?

Speaking of "tracking", do you think an organization like Khan Academy could provide us with useful data on what people learn and how?
Yes, I think so.

Tell you what Mr. Rainbird, I'll have a go at what you're proposing and I'll check back with you to let you know how I'm getting on. I'm a teacher, background in the Arts, speaker of 3 languages other than English and currently trying my hand at AP Chemistry and Physics, primarily with Khan Academy. I'm fascinated by the linguistic elements of learning, semantics etc and recently thought I'd buy a tee-shirt which said "I speak Physics". Currently, I'd say I'm functioning at 8th/9th grade level Math. So, where do you propose I jump in? I'm impressed by your passion and erudition, let's see where we can take this.

Well, take a crack at it man. Most of the materials can be found on Scribd.com, which means you can download pdf's for a small monthly subscription (but you can search them all in one day, download and limit costs I suppose).

I'm finding formal logic, set theory and especially category theory to be essential in abstract algebra and measure theory. Category theory really shines a light on the "black box" that is known as a function or maps, and then allows one to get intimate with the notion of maps -- which are key in, as far as I can tell, nearly every branch of mathematics.

____

It's neat how to really understand the majority of lower division, and even high school, math, it requires nearly all of a University's graduate course catalogue. Which, again, I know the majority of people never even get the chance to take because graduate school is something people typically avoid, and admissions is very competitive. And this trend continues because as new research is published, new applications will be discovered, and will likely be taught to high schoolers one day in the future. The ironic thing is that this cyclic syphoning effect of PhD holders' discoveries being stripped of all the theoretical curriculum which led to these very discoveries are then recycled and re-taught to young kids with as little explanation as possible. I think I just fundamentally take issue with this cyclic progression in math education. But, ultimately these discussions are usually smothered by people who say that teaching PhD coursework to kids is worse than teaching the results of the world's best discoveries to kids without any census as to how these discoveries were discovered and why they are reasonable or correct. I'm not so sure that the latter is any better sounding than the former. Anyway, my opinions are out there.

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Well, take a crack at it man. Most of the materials can be found on Scribd.com, which means you can download pdf's for a small monthly subscription (but you can search them all in one day, download and limit costs I suppose).

I'm finding formal logic, set theory and especially category theory to be essential in abstract algebra and measure theory. Category theory really shines a light on the "black box" that is known as a function or maps, and then allows one to get intimate with the notion of maps -- which are key in, as far as I can tell, nearly every branch of mathematics.

____

It's neat how to really understand the majority of lower division, and even high school, math, it requires nearly all of a University's graduate course catalogue. Which, again, I know the majority of people never even get the chance to take because graduate school is something people typically avoid, and admissions is very competitive. And this trend continues because as new research is published, new applications will be discovered, and will likely be taught to high schoolers one day in the future. The ironic thing is that this cyclic syphoning effect of PhD holders' discoveries being stripped of all the theoretical curriculum which led to these very discoveries are then recycled and re-taught to young kids with as little explanation as possible. I think I just fundamentally take issue with this cyclic progression in math education. But, ultimately these discussions are usually smothered by people who say that teaching PhD coursework to kids is worse than teaching the results of the world's best discoveries to kids without any census as to how these discoveries were discovered and why they are reasonable or correct. I'm not so sure that the latter is any better sounding than the former. Anyway, my opinions are out there.
Thanks for the well-argued reply. From your first piece I went to formal logic, and read Chapter 1 of Peter Smith's book. Loved it, really loved it. I've ordered the book. So, even if never read anything else on your list, I feel that's going to be a real gem. I'll have a look for Royden and Fitpatrick. Let's see. So many books, so little time.
If I've understood you correctly, are you saying the majority of people never really get to fully understand the math they took in high school? Try explaining the "cyclic progression" phenomenon again to me please. I'm from Ireland and I've never heard the term used before. Well, if you have time. If not, no worries. Thanks again for all your help.

ShayanJ
Gold Member
The golden rule of education:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

I'm not sure Beckett had mathematicians or physicists in mind when he wrote that. He probably did. He probably had everyone in mind. Clever bugger!

Incidentally, the W. B Yeats quote you posted, funny thing, why just a few days ago I used it too myself. Thanks for sharing.

I also have a plan to redesign the math and physics curriculum. For this the way I found best was most often to just rewrite everything from scratch rather than collect external references, as in most cases I don't know good enough references compared to what I can make myself. My work remains quite incomplete but for the start I did care to make texts close to perfection (at least for some kinds of readers). See it here : set theory and foundations of mathematics.