WHY WE NEED A MATH MINDSET

I never learned to love math. I don’t think I am alone.

As elementary and secondary students, we are required to earn passing grades in math in order to move up the educational ladder. But we don’t have to like it and, too often, we don’t.

Study session at Pennsylvania College of Technology

It might not seem, at first, like a big deal. Some people like learning math and some people do not. However, success in the modern workplace often requires an understanding of how technology works. That understanding begins with mathematics.

Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

How often do we look at our computers, cellphones or other devices and wonder how in the world they do what they do? It is not only our communication and entertainment devices; it is our appliances, automobiles and other products. Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

Penn College electronics and computer engineering students

… industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” … over the next decade.

This lack of knowledge leaves too many men and women out of the running for jobs in growing industries, which need highly skilled workers. A Forbes article published earlier this year concluded that industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” to employ 3.4 skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.

Two million job openings could go a long way toward improving our nation’s economy. How many lives could improve, how many families could be more secure, if we were capable of motivating students to take on the challenge of really understanding the mathematical foundation of modern technologies?

Learning automated manufacturing at Penn College

“You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset …”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Edward J. Almasy, a member of the faculty at Pennsylvania College of Technology, who described the importance of math in operating the electronic devices that rule modern industry.

“There’s millions of calculations going on every second. You can’t physically see that. You can’t see gears turning … levers being pulled. You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset … Having a mathematical mind will help you to understand how things work.”

 “Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters” – the latest episode in our award-winning documentary series – explores the link between math, computers and technology. It also encourages teachers and parents to help students understand how studying math will prepare them for the challenges of a modern world.

Penn College mathematics faculty often must find unique ways to turn students on to a subject they feared (and perhaps tried, as I did, to ignore) in high school.

“A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Lauren A. Rhodes

“When students come into my classroom, I would say the majority – at least more than half – are just terrified,” said Lauren A. Rhodes, who tries to calm the students’ fears and convince them, “You can do this!”

Her colleague Edwin G. Owens sees this as a motivational challenge for teachers: “Most students who are struggling with math see letters and numbers, they don’t see what they represent. A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Edwin G. Owens

In tackling the subject of “Why Math Matters,” the Working Class documentary features mountain climbers, a superhero and the legendary video game pioneer who founded Atari, Nolan Bushnell.

In a future blog, I will share more details about my interview with Bushnell, who was named by Newsweek as one of “50 Men Who Changed America.” The entrepreneur who revolutionized the industry in the 1970s, today works with a company that develops adaptive games for learning, Brainrush.

Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters made its broadcast premiere on public television this fall on WVIA Public Media. WVIA serves as co-producer of the series.

Teachers and homeschooling parents who want to learn more about how to use Working Class and other public media resources in their lesson plans are invited to participate in a free workshop on Nov. 30, 2017, at WVIA Public Media Studio. Contact me via e-mail to get more information or register for the workshop.

The shirt speaks for its owner, Mike Cherry, climbing coach and creator of The Addventures of Plusman comics, featured in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters.

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