Math in the Real World (or, I Know What I Did This Summer)

After almost two weeks in New Orleans this summer, I now excitedly carry in my pockets evidentiary examples, responses… just waiting for the the first person to ask that ubiquitous question all math teachers hear:  “When will I ever use this?”

I spent this time in the Crescent City working with several Not-for-Profit groups who partner with The Conservation Corps of Greater New Orleans.  The overarching goal of this umbrella organization is to teach and enable 16 – 24 year-olds who have either dropped out of school, spent time in the court system, or just want a new start with “environmentally restorative service projects” that ultimately lead to gainful employment in areas of societal need.

In the words of CCGNO:

“CCGNO programs take a service-learning approach to workforce development and community restoration. Our Corpsmembers play a central role in designing, proposing and implementing community service projects while learning skills that prepare them for careers in the emerging green economy. While promoting environmentally restorative practices, CCGNO programs seek to engage those young adults that have historically been disconnected from college and career opportunities.”**

So what did I do?  In a nutshell, I assisted Education Programs Coordinator Joey Kuchler and several program leaders in developing specific math curricula germane to their project needs.  For example, some of the Corpsmembers* will be learning construction so basic math skills are key.  (Fractions?  Yes, in construction you work with ruler readings to an eighth of an inch).  Other topics such as customary conversions, proportions and percents are just the beginning — remember triangles?  The Pythagorean Theorem and special right triangle calculations are often applied but trig ratios are especially necessary in construction math.

One morning, I accompanied Crew Leader Amber Parker of the Alliance for Affordable Energy to observe the weatherization process of an older New Orleans home.  Corpsmembers were not present but I had an inside look at the typical skills required to assess the needs of homeowners in the way of energy efficiency, and the math involved.  All windows and doors must be precisely measured (there’s your eighth-of-an-inch again) and after that, can you calculate what percent of each wall is window?  I do not have the background to detail what goes into this process next (it involves rating appliances, a tarp over the door with some blowing device, and something about negative/positive ions) but final calculations are made using software and ultimate energy needs are assessed, along with estimates of repairs and energy savings. 

[Side note: Those of you reading this who say, “Well who doesn’t know how to calculate percentages and use fractions?” should be thanking your math teachers right now.  Go ahead…I’ll wait….  Several Crew Leaders told me they were shocked as to how few Corpsmembers possessed even basic math skills.  Even those with GEDs and high school diplomas had almost no math skills, they said.  As a math teacher in Roswell, Georgia I can tell you with confidence that this lack of basic math skills is not confined to the educational system of Louisiana (elitists!) — I see these deficiencies every day!  Even with AP students!  Students fear the fractions, the word problems and the decimals so much that they avoid them (again, EVEN AP students) to the point they are innumerate.  But I digress.]   

My hope is to stay in touch with these dynamic leaders and follow the growth of the newest Corpsmembers in the programs.  Not only do I feel useful in this endeavor, I am, as I said, able to start the year fresh with better answers to students’ questions, even if they won’t believe me or listen.

 *Corpsmembers are the 16 – 24 year-olds participating in these programs.

**The Conservation Corps of Greater New Orleans recently received accolades in The New York Times in the article “New Orleans Program Links Green Jobs, Youth Development”

Social Norms for the Technophisticated

We all know I have a lot to say but class time is limited.  This year I will use this forum to enrich classroom discussion by sharing meaningful research and other fantastical and mathematical issues.  And sometimes I will venture to share general tidbits from the “real” world, the world you will soon inhabit.

Today’s nugget was brought to my attention in a blog entry by Peter Klein, a friend and Economics professor at the University of Missouri.  The article entitled “How to Behave: New Rules for Highly Evolved Humans” * from Wired Magazine suggests social norms for today’s technophisticated individual including:

  • Don’t Google-stalk before a first date
  • Wait before revealing TV spoilers
  • If your call drops, call back
  • Delete unwanted posts from your Facebook wallspoilers
  • Meet online friends in the real world
  • Don’t lie with your Facebook photo
  • Balance your media diet
  • Be mindful of your personal space

This said, texting in class is NOT okay.  Even if you are responding to your mom.  Save the social-networking for Social Studies class.

*Some content contained in this article may be construed as offensive and PG-13 in nature.  By clicking on this link you imply your willingness to navigate away from the original innocuous article written by Ms. Lloyd and agree to hold Ms. Lloyd harmless for any and all aftershocks.

What the Exam Graders say

Observations of the Chief Reader

The following information about the free-response section was provided by Roxy Peck, the Chief Reader for AP Statistics, after the 2001 AP Reading.

Exam performance this year (and in past years) was strongest in the area of describing data and weakest in the area of statistical inference. This was apparent in both the free-response inference questions as well as in the multiple-choice questions dealing with inference. In general, students were much stronger on the mechanical and computational aspects of problems than on parts that required interpretation or conceptual understanding. Communication of results continues to be a weakness.

Areas that continue to be problematic are listed below.

  • Many students failed to read questions carefully and, as a result answered a question different from the one that was asked.
  • Many students did not answer questions in context. Explanations and conclusions in context are always required for a complete answer.
  • More students than in past years stated assumptions when carrying out a hypothesis test, but few understood that assumptions must also be checked.
  • A large number of students seem to believe that it is okay to draw conclusions by “just looking at the data,” and did not seem to understand the need to employ inferential procedures even when asked to provide statistical evidence to support their conclusions.