Sunday, August 2, 2009

How Algebra is going to help me be or become ...?

Today, a student asked one of the typical questions that students ask in a developmental math course: "How Algebra is going to help me be or become ...?" Unfortunately, today this question irked my normal coolness and patience with students. Why students continue having a narrowed mind about knowledge in general? Why they consider course content as useless when they cannot find an immediate application of this content to their lives? Why shut down the unlimited ramifications of what they are learning to focus it only to the present they live in?

As you can see, I was annoyed by the question since I cannot comprehend how students invest so much in a college education to just come out the same way they got in: with a narrowed mind attitude. I thought the purpose of earning a college education is to come out a better person than when we got in. Anyway, here is my response to my student's discussion post:


Learning Algebra will help you in the following way:

(1) To earn a college degree since it is part of your degree plan. The college degree diploma will open many opportunities that you may have never expected. Once you earn your degree, employers will see this as a person who is persistent, hard worker, self-disciplined and capable of overcoming whatever challenges s/he may face. Isn't this what you experienced in this course?

(2) To make you think in a structured, logical and critical manner. This is what Algebra is all about! When difficult situations arise in your life, you will methodically think and reflect how to solve it instead of just making wild guesses or reactive decisions that most likely you will regret at a later time.

(3) To develop the habit of working smarter, not harder. I am certain there have been times in your life that you are responsible for completing a task that is tedious and repetitive, and you wonder if there is a better way to do it. The ability of analyzing if there is a pattern on what you do and find a better-efficient way of doing it is what Algebra is all about.

In my humble opinion, and with all due respect, it is time to stop seeing Algebra as a manipulation of variables, such as x + y = z, and start realizing that Algebra is about understanding how the world around you works, so you can take control and make it better. Isn't this why you are pursuing a college degree?


Cyndee Lu said...

Reading your post on Algebra makes me feel better about taking the course. I do know how algebra will benefit me in life, I think I just wasn't ready for it when I started the class. I am glad to see you are such a dedicated instructor in the area of MATH. I m hoping I can ask you questions and that you are able to answer them in a way that even I can understand. Thank you for sharing your passion. ( as it is mine too, I'm just having a little trouble with it right now. lol)

Cyndee lu

Jesse said...

As a teacher, being prepared to answer the question of how whatever we're teaching is relevant is important. In fact, I hope that it drives our planning, that we are riveted, fascinated, engaged in the usefulness and application of what we teach.
If we are clear about the context, meaning, beauty and application of a given lesson, being transparent about the topic preempts the question.
In my experience, whenever this question does get asked it's because kids are not learning, not because they actually want to know why a lesson or topic is important. Either they are not experiencing enough challenge or they are not experiencing enough success.
"What's the point" is code for "I'm bored and I don't want to do this" or "I'm lost, and I've been lost, and I don't want to do this because it sucks to feel lost."
I think it's our job to figure out what to do to get the kids learning again. Even with an awesome explanation for the worth of algebra, if they're asking the question then something more basic is missing for them. When they are learning, both feeling successful and being challenged, the question doesn't come up.

Andrew Sierra said...

As a young minded student i have had the same thoughts of many other studnets, "How is math going to help me?" "Why do i need to learn all these formulas for?"etc. But the teacher in this article makes a strong point as to why we shouldnt just be open minded about learning! I agree and even if all the things we learn wont always help us, just obtaining different types of info help expand our mind and things become easier for us. Thus, my beliefs have changed and i feel like students should be more open minded because math is a big part of everyday use and is a major part of earning our college degree.

Anonymous said...

Algebra is an important subject or factor to succeed on pursuing a college degree. After reading this article, I learned how to appreciate Algebra a little bit more. Certain exercises in Algebra have to be repeated over and over again, but doing like that at the end we will get the answer one way or another. Algebra is part of our life, and we have to learn it, or learn how to do certain exercises, because it will be beneficiary for our future

Tania Bauza

Leiry Guevara said...

In my personal opinion, I believe that algebra is very important for anyone, because many jobs require basic math. For instance, lets say you are going to be working in a market or restaurant as a cashier; you certainly need to know how to solve quick subtractions, addiction, multiplication and division. Knowing algebra will be a great benefit when needing to solve a problems like this. I also agree that, when I was in elementary school I had asked this question many times about '' How Algebra is going to help me be or become ...?" and now that am in University I can see ''how'' algebra will help me become better. Algebra is and will definitely help me to become better in solving problems in math and real life; it will as well help me to see the world in a totally different perspective. Therefore, I am doing my best effort to learn and know algebra very good. This will help me in my career curriculum and my personal life.

Anonymous said...

As a student , I was always negative about school and especially about Math. After coming to college I realized that Math is never going to go away and that you will always need it in life.

-christina bode

Anonymous said...

At no point in time did I ever like math . I felt that it was too many formulas and equations to remember and understand. But as I began to take more math classes than I wanted, I began to understand that math is needed with any career yuh want to go in. Math can be needed in the most simpliest situations. So now that im in college and majoring in Sports Administration, I need math no matter what. So knowing that it will benefit me in each and every way, I appreciate it more, its everyday life.

Dannisha Pierce

Anonymous said...

Stephanie Cazeau .

I must say that I always been interested in math since I was little . The fact that every problem even the ones that looked impossible had a solution to it totally amazed me , but I never thought that math can have such a strong impact on our everyday life. It plays such a big role in today's society. In High school algebra was my favorite subject but I never did like geometry. Even though that there a lot of formulas and equation to remember I think its essentials hat everybody show some interest in algebra, specially college student since we use it at work if we happen to be a cashier, a sale representative , etc.algebra can help you solve the bigger problem that you will face later one .

RandomRiterRambler said...

All in all, you make a very convincing argument. However, for points 2 and three, you failed to mention a specific implication: many students have no idea what they are doing when they do their algebra homework, me included. Points 2 and three are entirely based around the assumption that the students understand the math, or that they are only a short distance away from grasping it.
Quite a fair number of students have given up trying to wrap their brains around the material and have started instead blindly memorizing steps and equations in order to get a passing grade. I usually don't understand why an equation works the way it does until weeks to months after the test. A friend of mine recently said to me, "Hey, I figured out something! After you finish factoring something, it's supposed to equal the original equation! It's the same, just stretched out!" We did factoring last year.
I'm not saying this is all students, but it's a fairly good-sized amount. But the ones that don't understand, cannot possibly use algebra to "think in a structured, logical and critical manner" or "develop the habit of working smarter, not harder".