Should We Change the Math Courses that are Required in School?

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The way our schools teach math should follow a more concrete system than the abstract one they currently use.

Samantha McCleery , Co-Editor-In-Chief

In high school we follow a set curriculum of algebra, geometry, algebra 2, and calculus with varying levels of each. However, will these subjects ever help us after high school? Maybe, if one becomes a mathematician, physicist, or engineer, but many people won’t. How often do adults encounter a problem where they need to solve using the quadratic formula? Or figure out the slope of a tangent line? The way our schools teach math should follow a more concrete system than the abstract one they currently use.

The common core way of learning math is not practical and does not best prepare us high school students for life. The curriculum requires students to calculate equations, understand concepts– not just memorize answers– select the best mathematical concept or equation, and demonstrate why it is accurate. Students would benefit more from learning how to write a check, take advantage of best mortgage rates, and manage finances. Some schools do offer electives to teach a these topics, but they aren’t required. So, that means the majority of students aren’t learning important life skills, and that is a problem.

A math curriculum– and corresponding testing– based more on real-world problems would still teach some of the abstract concepts we currently study. But the difference is that students will learn to appreciate math more and to manipulate formulas to help with situations they will encounter once they are out of the classroom.

To start, schools could replace the required courses of algebra, geometry, and algebra 2 with finance, housing, and basic engineering. In a finance class students could learn about saving and investing money. This would help them with managing their own investments. Some of the math skills you would learn in this class would be basic multiplication and square roots, integration, differentiation, compound interest situations, and exponent usage.

In the housing class students could learn about the cost of home repair and homeowners insurance. They would be educated on possible damages and the costs that are covered in insurance policies. Teachers would educate students on how to solve mortgage problems, interest rates, loan to value, and debt to income ratios.  

The engineering course would teach students how engines, TVs, and computers work. This class would prepare students for issues they may encounter when it comes to technology. Students would learn about 2D vectors, linear equations, integrals, and sinusoids.

Some may argue claiming it is important to keep abstract reasoning alive even if not useful later in life. I’m not saying to get rid of these basic math classes all together but instead make them optional. Students who want to study to become an engineer or a mathematician still have the chance to learn these concepts, while the students who won’t find them useful don’t have to take them. Also, these more concrete classes still teach many of the abstract math skills, but apply them to real-life situations.

Abstract reasoning courses can still be important depending on what you want to study in the future. If any of those classes should continue to be required, it would be algebra. This class would help prepare students for the new concrete classes such as financing and housing, which require basic algebra skills to successfully master the course. If algebra is required then one can choose to stay on the abstract math path as you go into higher grade levels, but, all students will have to take classes that teach solutions and explanations to real-world problems.

The traditional sequence of math courses in high school is not and should not be the only path available to students. Schools must teach topics that all students will understand and will apply to their personal lives. Through these real-life applications, mathematics will continue to grow and connect students with topics they will need to help them throughout their adulthood.