Remember those math problems in algebra and geometry class? Problems about trees and their shadows, trains leaving for Kansas City at 2:00, graphs about average heights of kids in the fourth grade, circles using pi and a radius. I wondered then why we were doing these things if not for torture. I was pretty good at them, but absolutely never saw the point. And no one dared asked the teacher why.
Things could be so different today, and I really hope they are. Why learn about triangulation and angles of satellites?
There’s a black box down there in the Indian Ocean. And it has been calling to a searching world, actually overheard a few times. Some say the pings are heard from locations 16 miles apart. And then the experts get on tv and explain it. I find myself fascinated. I’d love to have seen my scary math teacher, Miss Rockefeller, drawing this all over the board and dragging out a theorem or two to explain it.
So there was a reason for all that! We who were girls in decades past never imagined actually using math to solve problems beyond calculating the cost of a pair of shoes that was 20% off. We never ever thought of math as a factor in airline safety. And of course we did not identify with the experts who have always used math to improve our lives.
So hang in there, math teachers. Seize this tragic moment and use it to teach your students about the practical uses of math. Maybe you would share with us how you are using this story.