Saturday, January 16, 2010

Spirolateral Break

Spirolaterals are an idea that I don't remember where I read about them, but the idea is relatively simple. You take the the decimal expansion of some fraction and using the digits create segments of those lengths then rotate some fixed number of degrees. I have an Excel spreadsheet that creates these pictures. If I figure out a way to post the file I will. Let me know if you know of a way to do that.

Here is 8/147 with a 90 degree turn at each step.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Math Elective

I have been reading a number of the posts on David Bresoud's blog at They are slowly bringing me to the conclusion that my profession is in danger. More and more I see math education mirroring the american automotive industry. We are certain that there will always be a demand for what we provide. We are certain that people will desire a version of that product that is nearly identical to version we produced 20 years ago. This may not be true, and we have gone a long way to "reform", but there is still a long way to go. Bresoud articles seem to point out consistently our ridiculous adoration of calculus as the bridge between high school and college mathematics. He points out also how this leads to all kinds of systems and policies that lead people to take math they don't want and they don't need. The math they do want and do need is often under-supported, under-credited, and under-appreciated.

Those are my interpretations of his articles. You may have your own. One of his more recent posts, here, talks about the indicators of success in college. And of course points out what many know, the SAT and ACT are not particularly good predictors of college success. Which is what I understood their importance to be in the first place.

So what if SAT and ACT went away?

At first, I was excited by the prospect. So many pieces of ridiculous mathematics could be jettisoned from the curriculum. We would have freedom to create programs that make sense for today. It would be easier to rest control of the curriculum from calculus and refocus on statistics and discrete math. More and more students are going in biological sciences (need statistics) and fewer and fewer are becoming engineers (need calculus).

Then the dark side of it hit me. If math teachers could say you need this for SAT, then what is the likelihood we could keep our requirement status. Would you really need four years. How many students and parents would like their child to not HAVE to take math. Based on how many people regularly tell me that they hate math or were never any good at it, A LOT.

And what if happened quickly. Where would we be?

This is why I feel we have to teach math as if it were an elective. Every class. Every class needs to have a clear purpose. Students should not leave high school without knowing how to use excel, because if you are going to do real math in the real world you are going to use excel at some point. So screw the calculator and get the computer.

How much data is being produced today? Way more than can be analyzed currently, but they are looking for people to do it. Why has AP Statistics grown and grown. When will it plateau?

I guess I have a lot of questions, but I don't know how to rattle the colleagues I see around me to the coming danger.