Nothing but disheartening news about Americans and mathematics emanating from recent international test results. Of course, one doesn’t have to go too far to find bad news . . . it’s there in report cards, transcripts, state and national tests like the ACT or SAT. Across the continent, our middle and high school students can’t tell a fraction from function.
Makes ya wonder how we got to the moon. Of course, just a decade ago NASA bungled a metric conversation and a very pretty $125 million orbiter crashed into Mars. Maybe Apollo 11 was just a movie.
Decades and decades of math instruction . . . way cool computer animations that demonstrate mathematical formulas . . . we are surrounded by technical gadgets . . . but nearly 80% of our high school students are not ready for college Algebra. American students take 12 years of mathematics, and yet results suggest they probably spent their time writing song lyrics.
Something has to change.
There was a point in grade school that math lost its magic. I believe it occurred one lonely night in my bedroom as I was cranking out another 30 long division problems for Mother Mary Cyril. I lost points for writing my name off the margin or leaving off the JMJ at the top of the pages. I was done. I’ll do the math, sure, but no more for love.
For 20 years, I had spurned my deepest love. Oh, I’d read about it (John Allen Paulos, Gregory Bateson, Douglas Hofstadter), but I lost my touch.
And then I found System Dynamics. For starters, accumulations, integrations, models, logistical curves. And then the sexy stuff . . . I was beginning to understanding what math was for, how I might apprehend some natural rhythms with it, might be able to mentally and computationally simulate phenomena around me, might be able to comprehend why ratios and comparisons are like mathematical hinges. Math was real again.
I don’t think I could tell you what “BANK_BALANCE(t) = BANK_BALANCE(t – dt) + (Earning_Interest) * dt” represents, but I could describe the basics of the relationship in this simple model. So could you, without much of a lesson. Now, if an old suburban English teacher can learn that then certainly System Dynamics can open some deep math.