It’s a Math, Math, Math, Math World
Way back when, during my university training, I remember a professor sharing a book with us. I don’t remember if this professor was a content-area instructor for math or literacy, but I remember the book. It had to do with how integral mathematics are to our day-to-day lives. The book illustrated this (quite literally, since it was a picture book) by showing what various everyday items, such as newspapers, houses, and street signs, would look like without any numbers. Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this book! What I do remember is being struck with how true it is that math is a part of everything we do.
Now, sure, most of us don’t solve differential equations in our heads or figure out logarithms while shopping, but math is all around us. When we drive our cars and we notice our fuel gauges, tachometers, and speedometers, we are using math. And when we adjust our speed, we are actually performing some really impressive mathematics without even realising it! For our day-to-day purposes, we can probably get by with knowing basic arithmetic. So why do we have to learn so much complex math? After all, nearly every college graduate has to take a quantitative reasoning course, and that is almost always met by taking calculus.
The answer, at least the answer I give, is simple: it isn’t about the numbers; it is about the process. Just as with everything else we do in school, the end result is only part of the equation. The most important part is the process; how we learn, how we think, and understanding both how we learn as we think and how we think as we learn. The big fancy word for this, which I tell my fourth graders on a regular basis, even though most of them, if not all of them, are unable to fully process what it means, is metacognition. (On a completely unrelated note, I would hate to try to diagram that sentence. Way too many clauses!)
So even though I am sure my students think I was being really mean today by making them do math almost all morning and afternoon, there is a reason behind it: I want my students to learn how to think long, think hard, and think well. If they can do that, and if they can read literately, then they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. They may need to think of creative ways to do it, but I have no doubt that they can. And it surely beats being the guy or girl at McDonald’s who cooks the fries all day long!