Entering the classroom as a former stay-at-home mom, I didn’t understand how relationships figured into motivation. I didn’t understand “college readiness” because both of my sons were slackers who somehow made it through engineering school. Math curriculum is dense. We have enough on our plates. So what’s with the top-down initiatives aimed at motivation and “college readiness?”
When it comes to fairness with respect to students having career options, I think the blame is eventually going to have to rest on the high school math teachers. (Doesn’t it always?…but hear me out.) We know math is the gateway to modern careers, but we aren’t going to be able to motivate many students with that lofty thought. In there minds, there are many options because they aren’t wrapping their minds around the sweeping implications of technology and robotics. Since we teach the math underlying the revolution, we need to show them the implications.
Guidance counselors rarely understand how math is used in real jobs, so they can only say, “You need math.” For too many students, the response is, “I better think of something else.” Worse, many in the workplace say they never use the math they learned in high school because they do not understand how their thought processes parallel what we teach in algebra. We need to show students how math is used in the evolving workplace and show how specific thought processes are connected to real work. It would be a whole lot easier for us, as math teachers, to show those connections in a motivating way as we teach the math, than for a guidance counselor to learn the math to be able to explain how it connects to interesting college majors.
That is not to say it is easy for a math teacher to recognize or find out about those connections. Most math teachers don’t have much prior experience with mathematical thought in high-tech work environments. No one makes those connections for us in teacher school, and some would say the logical parallels are a far stretch. I disagree. I’ve collected what I think is the tip of the iceberg here, based on part-time work in my previous life and conversations with many who work in jobs we don’t often hear about. Be sure to check out STEM in the drop-down categories. Next summer I’m hoping to job shadow to get more ideas. Please send me yours: firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t always make our content fun and games, and we need each other to help our students understand why learning mathematics is worth the effort.