How Little Math Americans Actually Use at Work

From The Atlantic, not that blue-collar workers generally do more advanced math than their white-collar counterparts.  I am not suggesting all of CTE is targeted at blue-collar jobs anymore; however, it is interesting that those students often think that math is less important to them.

Remember sitting through high school math class while the teacher droned on about polynomial equations and thinking there wasn’t a chance you’d ever use any of it in life? Well, if you’re like most Americans, chances are your 17-year-old self was absolutely correct.

As it turns out, less than a quarter of U.S. workers report using math any more complicated than basic fractions and percentages during the course of their jobs. The graphs below are based on survey data compiled by Northeastern University sociologist Michael Handel. Handel surveyed about 2,300 workers first from 2004 through 2006, then again between 2007 and 2009. The catchall category of "any more advanced" math includes algebra through calculus. And as you can see, most workers aren’t doing a whole lot of high-level computations.


You might be surprised by who’s doing the most advanced math day-to-day. It’s not white-collar workers. Rather, it’s high-skill blue-collar workers, shown in dark blue on the graph below. Before you glance over it, here’s a breakdown of jobs categories:

  • Upper level white collar, e.g. management, technical, and professional occupations
  • Low level white collar, e.g. clerical and sales workers
  • Upper level blue collar, e.g. craft and repair workers like skilled construction trades and mechanics
  • Lower level blue collar, e.g. factory workers and truck drivers


These numbers alone aren’t an open and shut case against teaching complex math to most high school students. But they do suggest that what we teach today has little relationship to the broad demands of the job market, and that we should at least be conscious of the possibility that we’re putting educational road blocks in front of students without a practical application for them.

At the same time, it’s clear that some of the best blue-collar jobs do in fact require a level of mathematical literacy on par with what you’d expect a student to know if they were college bound. To me, that hints at an argument for more high level vocational programs: It might help if students actually knew that those boring equations really one day would earn them a paycheck.

Categorized as Life Tagged

NYTimes: It’s My Birthday Too, Yeah


I was explaining to my class the other day that given our class sizes it is better than 50-50 that two students have the same birthday.

But hard to explain.

So I give them this article.

Article below By STEVEN STROGATZ

Me, Myself and Math

Me, Myself and Math, a six-part series by Steven Strogatz, looks at us through the lens of math.

By an amazing coincidence my sister, Cathy, and my Aunt Vere have the same birthday: April 4.

Actually, it’s not so amazing. In any extended family with enough siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, you’d expect at least one such birthday coincidence. Certainly, if there are 366 people in the family — more relatives than days of the year — they can’t all have different birthdays, so a match is guaranteed in a family this big. (Or if you’re worried about leap year, make it 367.)

But suppose we don’t insist on absolute certainty. A classic puzzle called the “birthday problem” asks: How many people would be enough to make the odds of a match at least 50-50?

The answer, just 23 people, comes as a shock to most of us the first time we hear it. Partly that’s because it’s so much less than 366. But it’s also because we tend to mistake the question for one aboutourselves. My birthday.

Khan Academy Changes Math Class Structure

From Wired magazine as How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education.  You see, you use the tool, first like you think you are going to as an assist for after school, and then you simply change how instruction is delivered.  The valuable part of a teacher is individualizing the education and providing the support, not always the original lecture.  Make no mistakes here, some lectures Khan just doesn’t deliver the same way, the relationship builds through the presentation.  Where it doesn’t….well, read the article.

Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She’s now on her way to “flipping” the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck.

“I’m able to give specific, pinpointed help when needed,” she says.

The result is that Thordarson’s students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids like Carpenter rocket far ahead; once they’re answering questions without making mistakes, Khan’s site automatically recommends new topics to move on to. Over half the class is now tackling subjects like algebra and geometric formulas. And even the less precocious kids are improving: Only 3 percent of her students were classified as average or lower in end-of-year tests, down from 13 percent at midyear.