Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Pi, Calculus & Clay Jugs

Despite a five year, multi-million pound recruitment drive, Britain is struggling to recruit maths and science teachers which sends my mind back to my own schooldays.
1985 and Michael J Fox is back in the future, Emilio Estevez is in the Breakfast club, Freddy Kruger is back in Elm Street and i was in Class 72 not listening to the Maths teacher tell us how important it was to learn the value of Pi.
Of course what the Maths teachers never told us was that unless we planned on sewing leather patches onto cardigans and becoming Maths teachers ourselves, 99.9% of us will never actually use Pi but that little gem is kept quiet because otherwise they will have to fill the time trying to explain long division or another thing i have managed to survive the past 23 years since leaving school without ever contemplating using, calculus.
Things like Pi, Calculus and the Periodic table of Elements stayed in my brain for as long as it took for the teacher to say them and i couldn't tell you the chemical symbol for Mercury without googling it first and that's exactly what i would do if for some unfathomable reason i needed to know.
I also spent a whole year making a clay jug. What practical use that is to a person in the world outside of secondary education i don't know unless you are unlucky enough to find yourself in a desert with only a lump of clay and a potters wheel and then you will be glad you didn't fake a period pain every Monday afternoon in that final year.
What it comes down to is that a number of lessons we sit through at school are actually useless and just there to pad out the curriculum but we don't know that at the time and pay attention because we never know when the ability to name the wives of King Henry 8th in chronological order will pop up in the course of the working day.
So pay attention kids and listen to the Maths teacher because the chances of ever hearing anyone mention the word Pi again once you have left school is 3.14159265 or something.


Cody Bones said...

Untrue, Untrue, Untrue, you sound like my kids. Pi is in everything we see, make or do. How were your glasses sized, how were your tires made. Plumbers, carpenters, architects, programmers, etc. all use pi on a daily basis. The other reason that the math teachers care so much is that hopefully they can teach you HOW TO LEARN. The most important thing a student can take away fro school. God I feel like a dad saying all this, but it is true.

Anonymous said...

Yes - they dont tell you WHY you need to know these things - and there are so important as Cody says. So many teachers just can't teach maths and science.

I hated both, although I did quite well at them I never saw the point at the time.

effay said...

I was actually having a conversation with my Mom (a middle-school teacher) the other day about how misguided our education system is. My general feeling is that many less endowed and/or privileged people would be better served by a more vocational approach. I just think it's silly to waste some student's time giving them an insignificant chance of going to a good university when they could be learning a useful trade. But, who am I to decide? If the government hadn't monopolized the education market, people could decide for themselves based on their risk aversion. Of course, I am now an elitist for saying this, but oh well.

Almost forgot the point of this comment: My Mom said (don't know if it's true) that in Britain students take a test in 9th grade, or thereabouts, that determines if they take a more vocational track or a more esoteric track from then on.

Noah "Nog" M. said...

A quick intro just for those who don't know the American grading system (I don't know if it's different in Europe):
-1st Grade: usually 6-7 year olds
-7th: 12-13
-8th: 13-14
-9th: 14-15
-12th Grade: usually 17-18 year olds
-then you go to college or wherever

"Elementary": 1st-5th, or 1st-6th are most common groupings
"Middle"/"Junior High": 5th-8th, 6th-8th are the most common groupings
"High": pretty much universally 9th-12th grade

In any case, I rather like avocational approaches to pre-collegiate educations in most cases. There are some more vocation-oriented high schools here and there but I don't know how reasonable it is to make a kid pick at an early age.

I've heard that they track you in Britain around 12. I don't know this to be true and I certainly don't know how you'd get a 12 year old to pick what they are to do when they're 30 ("fireman", "army man", "fighter pilot", "actor", "Jedi" would be what an American 12 year old would probably say) with any reasonable degree of sense.

I'm going to agree with cody bones above that a lot of it is about how to learn.


effay said...

I'm not saying that you should decide at age 12; I'm thinking more like disadvantaged kids in high school here. I know people who went to crappy high schools and really they don't learn anything there anyhow, so why stop them from going to plumber school (plumbers make good money) because they have to take British Lit, even though they haven't really learned to read yet? If you haven't learned to read by high school, taking British Lit is going to be a total waste of time.

And actually, I think that most of the important stuff that's taught in high school now could be taught in middle school if our schools didn't suck so much.

And you would advocate avocational, but what do you think a monopoly-free education system would look like - what I have described or what you have?

Anonymous said...

I understand what you mean even with that tounge sticking in yer cheek. Why spend whole terms learning stuff we never use again. I dont remember a time i have ever used pi but it is like a driving lesson where you need to know certain things just to pass the exam.

Anonymous said...

I agree with David G.


JodieKash said...

I love Pi.

Esp the "cream" family...Boston Cream, Coconut Cream, Lemon Chiffon (a bit creamy). Yum

Lucy said...

Always amuses me when someone can rattle off complex maths equations but has to stop and think what 8 x 6 is or how money they need to pay for 3 79p lattes in the canteen.