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HS Math Misaligned with Practice, Needs Less Pre-Calc, More Data Moves!

I can finally put my SDSU math major and teaching degree to their fullest use: helping my eighth-grader with her algebra homework.

But I also put my blogging skills to use to remind her that the high school math she’s prepping for is mental calisthenics that she won’t use much for the rest of her life… according to my own experience and a survey of listeners of the Freakonomics podcast:

Daphne MARTSCHENKO: So, we’ve been putting together a survey that we sent out to Freakonomics listeners. We asked our survey respondents which subjects they use in their daily life, traditional math and data-related. So trigonometry, geometry, calculus, versus more data-related skills like analyzing and interpreting data and visualizing it.

Steven LEVITT: So what percent of people, say, use calculus on a daily basis?

MARTSCHENKO: About 2 percent said that they use calculus on a daily basis, and almost 80 percent say they never use it.

LEVITT: Okay. I would think calculus would get used more than trigonometry and geometry, although that would be hard if only 2 percent are using it. But what percent use trigonometry and geometry?

MARTSCHENKO: Yeah. Less than 2 percent of respondents said that they use trigonometry in their daily life, but over 70 percent of them said that they never use it.

LEVITT: And how about geometry?

MARTSCHENKO: Geometry was a little bit better. There were about 4 percent of respondents who said that they use geometry daily, but again, over 50 percent said that they never use it [Steven D. Levitt, “America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up (Ep. 391),” Freakonomics, 2019.10.02].

Much as I love the quadratic formula (I have told students that august formula is one of the few things I would consider tattooing on my arm), I cannot recall using it in the past 30 years outside of a teaching or tutoring situation.

What mathematical tool do I use almost every day? Spreadsheets:

LEVITT: …Now, what do we find when we asked about some of the data-related tools? What about simple things — I’ve always thought we should teach Excel in the schools. Do people actually use Excel, or is that just my imagination?

MARTSCHENKO: Yeah. Close to 70 percent of people said that they use Excel or Google Spreadsheets on a daily basis. We ask people how often they visualize and present data to make an argument. So if you include those who say they visualize data, daily, weekly, and monthly, you’re gonna get over 70 percent — close to 75 percent of people.

LEVITT: Okay, great. But we didn’t just ask them what they used. We also asked them what they wished they had learned more of. So tell me, which of the traditional math topics were people hoping that they had gotten more of in high school?

MARTSCHENKO: None. Virtually.

LEVITT: So, how about the data skills? I mean, we hardly teach data skills, so my guess is, people are going to want more of that. That’s what our premise was. Is that what the data tell us?

MARTSCHENKO: Yes, on every single one of the data-related questions we asked, over 40 percent of people said that they wish they had learned more. But the ones that really stood out were how to analyze and interpret data to discover hidden insights. We had close to 65 percent of people say that they wished they learned more about that.

LEVITT: I wish I’d learned more about that. That’s the most valuable skill in the world.

MARTSCHENKO: Yeah. And on top of that, we had 60 percent who said that they wish they’d learned more about how to visualize and present data to make an argument. So those two definitely go together [Levitt, 2019.10.02].

I love Algebra 2, trigonometry, and calculus. Yet I would strike all of them (sparing at least a little trig, because measuring the height of the water tower in Larson Park without leaving the ground is pretty cool) to make room for all high school students to take statistics—not just standard deviation, correlation, and more complicated measurements but also data moves, the skills necessary to group, filter, merge, and reorganize data so we can make sense of the numbers the world offers.

I’ll get my eighth-grader through algebra and prepare her for all the high school math curriculum will throw at her. But I’ll also make sure she messes around with Numbers or Open Office Calc so she’s equipped for what’s really coming next.


  1. mike from iowa 2019-10-28

    Is a spread sheet something one puts on a table top and then places the buffet on the spread sheet? Clewless iowan wants to know.

  2. o 2019-10-28

    More, more, more. I’m not sure if it the aspirational goals of education, to be ever learning more, have been coopted by the educational detractors to set the goals SO far away that they can never be reached. Schools all bought into the idea that we can have our students go further and further in their academics — then politicians coopted with test makers to measure and mandate those lofty aspirations: punishing schools that do not meet those goals.

    Recently Governor Noem commented (disapprovingly) that SD Smarter Balanced scores seemed flat, but what does that mean? What was really being tested? Are SD students well-educated or not? Testing never ever seems to be used to establish a a true benchmark of quality – just an arbitrary line created solely so those over it are OK and those behind it are punished.

    It is awesome, and terrifying, to see how much more is required of our students at EVERY level than way back when “America was great.”

  3. Buckobear 2019-10-28

    Calculus ?? Algebra ?? Hell’s Bells, most people can’t calculate a 10% discount. Maybe more emphasis on how to integrate math into daily life. Reading skill and critical thinking are the skills needed.

  4. o 2019-10-28

    At what point does the hopeful not wanting anyone to miss out on any opportunity become the much more insidious evidence of “schools’ failures” when not everyone is accelerating to the top levels in all academic disciplines?

  5. Richard Schriever 2019-10-28

    Research Design and Statistics are the two courses that most people would find more helpful. They are the disciplines we use to “visualize and present data to make an argument”, which is what the “60 percent ….. said that they wish they’d learned more about how to (do)”.

  6. Cathy B 2019-10-28

    As a fellow math major and former high school math teacher, I agree completely with Cory’s position on this. I often say one of the most useful things people learn in math class is Ratio and Proportion, which we learn in middle school.
    May I add: One of the most useful courses that high schools can offer is Driver Ed. It was there when I was in HS and also in the Sioux Falls schools for our kids, but now it costs $325 (or $100 through the Multi-Cultural Center).

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-28

    O, note that I’m not talking more; I’m talking something new to replace something old, something that might be more useful than the current curricular focus.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-28

    Ratio and proportion—Cathy B, check out the Freakonomics podcast for what College Board CEO (SAT chief) David Coleman says about what math skills matter:

    The first is the most humble, but it’s powerful, is arithmetic. The command of the four operations: subtraction, multiplication, division, and addition — but crucially, fractions. The next area of math that’s hugely predictive of your future success is what I would call data analysis and problem-solving, including rates, ratio, proportion, designing quantities that interact with one another in that way, and watching their growth over time in development. The third area of math that’s extremely widely used is what I would call the heart of algebra, which is linear equations. That portion of algebra is then very widely used in other disciplines to open up many other problems [Levitt, 2019.10.02].

    Fractions, ratios—our students really do need a sense of proportion.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-28

    You are right, O, that we tread a perilous line when we argue for changes in the curriculum, as our less problem-solving-oriented neighbors may take what we say as ammunition for their own cheap complaints against schools or, worse, their dangerous arguments for dismantling public education. We need to model the ability to argue with force and subtlety, to question and reform our public school curriculum while steadfastly advocating for public schools.

  10. o 2019-10-28

    Cory, I know you are not advocating for more; I am saying that schools – through our politicians – have created the more-and-more-curriculum which becomes unobtainable for a whole high school or grade level; we have done it to ourselves. We want EVERY student to graduate while pushing graduation requirements ever higher. It is the fallacy of No Child Left Behind: that every student can succeed at the highest aspirational level, and if any student does not, the school is a failure. I think most parents are shocked when they really come to grips with what children – all children – are being asked to master at each grade level. I see parents shake their heads and say “it wasn’t like that when I was in school,” but it goes on.

    I really do believe that these impossible criteria for success were the precursors for tearing down the institution of free public education.

  11. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    A first cousin from Watertown has a double Doctorate degree. One in statistics and one in economics. He’s worked at Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory as well as being a statistics professor at Iowa State and U of Wyoming. He currently makes the big bucks as an expert witness in malpractice suits. He, with models and algorithms, testifies to juries how much an injured person would have made for the rest of their life, had they not been damaged by a bad doctor.
    Anyway, when I stay for a week or so at their house in Cheyenne, Mark is continually taking calls and helping people of all ages get through beginner level algebra class, just to be a nice guy. He asserts that a certain wired brain doesn’t understand algebra, no matter what. That person can get a passing grade (D or D-) with a lot more work than an algebra able person puts out. He also, without expertise, believes that algebra averse people are very often above average in language arts.
    I have to agree with my cousin. I couldn’t do algebra and barely got through Algebra I in Vermillion. My daughter also. We hired her three tutors and had her write letters to her professor explaining how hard she was trying. Straight A’s in every other class. In college, math professors have a lot more tolerance for kids that aren’t wired for algebra. In High School, not so much.

  12. o 2019-10-28

    I suppose we circle back to the big question: what do we (communities) expect our schools to teach our students? What do our students need at any given level of education?

    To me that ought to be the primary focus of any school board.

  13. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-28

    Sounds like a good idea to me.

  14. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28


    We have a critical problem in that too many students are avoiding math….because we let them. If your approach is to reach those math-avoiders by first getting some success in statistics, and then invite them into the other math courses, then that would be a good outcome.

    Unfortunately, it is far easier to find an engineer who double-majors in a foreign language than vice-versa. The prototypical liberal arts major is intellectually capable of pursuing a minor or double-major in math, physics, or engineering, but they avoid math. It does take time away from other things, and it is out of their comfort zone.

    If students are not ready to take calculus when they go to college, then they tend not to consider STEM careers that can pay more or that can contribute in the tasks needed to deliver the solutions to big problems we face.

    Overall, it is better to take calculus and not need it, then to avoid calculus and find out that you really needed it to open up a variety of career paths. Yes, that means we also need more geometry, algebra, pre-calc, and statistics.

  15. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    I disagree with Bob McTaggart. Imagine that. Ha ha There’s no reason in college to take more math than you need, if it’s hard for you. Study and practice hard at what you’re good at. Learn how to help a lot of people or entertain a lot of people at your best skill. You can always hire people to do math for you, cheap. Lots of people have no other skills and always need a job.

  16. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    How can you hire the best people if you don’t know something about the topic or what you want out of that position?

    Part of college is exploring what you like to do. I totally support that. But part of it is strengthening your weaknesses….that is part of a true liberal arts education.

  17. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    Like Cory posted. Most never need advanced math. They need busy work math and hiring someone to do it is easy.
    Yes, a well rounded exposure is the key to a fulfilling life. But, a liberal arts education can easily be worthwhile without trig or calculus. I do use geometry when I’m golfing. That was the only math I excelled in.

  18. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    If you are happy at your job and can get by without doing math, great. But if your job goes away, you will need a backup plan. It is probable that students may have several jobs over a lifetime, and a background in stats and calculus can make one more competitive in the job market.

    You need to be able to sing and dance, not just sing or dance. You need to be able to both dream it and do it.

  19. Debbo 2019-10-28

    Porter said, “He asserts that a certain wired brain doesn’t understand algebra, no matter what.”

    That’s me. I have a math learning disability. It’s a real thing. I worked very hard at Algebra and Geometry in high school and got a D in the first, a C- in the second because it appealed to my love of drawing and that helped counteract the disability a little bit.

    I took the 2 classes because, at that time, my college major didn’t require any math classes if I’d taken 2 in high school. I knew I’d never pass them.

    Turned out there was a statistics class for teachers my senior year. I was able to cheat my way through it with a C. With the help of a mathematically skilled classmate, we devised a simple way for me to figure grades that I used throughout my teaching career.

    I think a math disability is just about as big a lifetime hassle as dyslexia. Not as much, but it’s definitely a PITA.

  20. Jad 2019-10-28

    We continue to teach math in an abstract manner instead of learning math by applying it. Trades people like electricians, carpenters, and machinists know and use the math that applies to their trade. Teach math as an application and not as an abstract idea. Concrete thinkers will have a hard time learning math because it is taught as an abstract idea. Math teachers love the idea of math and fail to teach real world applications.

  21. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    Jad is right. My math professor cousin says the same thing. It’s the abstract that math disabled like me don’t grasp, easily.
    Debbo … speaking of cheating at math. ha ha My remedial Algebra 1 course at USD wasn’t going any better than my ninth grade Algebra 1 course. Before the final test, which was my only shot at passing, the professor came up to me and said to sit next to the guy he pointed out. He became a friend, later. A black, football player the ‘Yotes had brought in from Chicago. Turned out the professor had given him a test with all the answers already filled in. I just looked at his test and copied it. The professor was pretty cool to let me cheat. I’ve never forgot that.

  22. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    If you are a high school student and want to be part of the STEM workforce (and even the STEAM workforce), it is in one’s best long-term interests to be ready to take calculus in the first semester in college.

    If you then choose to take another path, great…but then you probably should minor in statistics.

  23. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    I’d have loved to take calc and physics. Would have done it in a heartbeat. Would have loved to be on the basketball team, too. Hey, God! WTF?

  24. grudznick 2019-10-28

    This is about some people being soft-brained and doing well in the touchy feely fuzzy stuff like art and languages, and some people being hard-brained and doing well in the maths and logics. grudznick is not saying hard-brained people are any smarter than soft-brained people, they’re just better at math and worse at acting. Baking, on the other hand, is a hard-brained activity as it is more like chemistry and construction but without the geometry. Baking has math. Plus you get cookies at the end.

  25. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    And then there’re people like grudz that are good at all brain stuff. He studied nuclear physics, molecular biology, and political science at three great universities. What a brain!

  26. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    That’s what I mean….if you can get enough math in high school, you at least can take calc and physics to try them out.

    Instead of cheating….cough, cough, cough….it would be great to hire more teachers to allow the time for extra assistance, but that is often difficult to do. Maybe if more students took more math and physics, some of them could volunteer as tutors after they complete a class, if not come back later as student teachers.

  27. grudznick 2019-10-28

    Mr. Lansing, pointing out I am a super-good and ultra-hip scientist is not a way you can get my goat.

  28. Clyde 2019-10-28

    I’m with Jad. I flailed along in college with no goal other than keeping my 2S classification so that I wouldn’t get drafted for that SE Asia tropical vacation. Finally gave up and put in my time and got that GI bill cheap education. An associate degree in mechanical engineering. At the time we were told that we could do anything a 4 year engineer could do except theoretical math. Something that only a very few engineers needed to do. My calculus exposure amount’s to a book I bought later called “Calculus for Dummies”.

    Ended up farming anyway…..guess I’m a masochist.

  29. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    Back in the day it used to be the case that the BS degree from an accredited program was the degree of choice in engineering. More students pursue an MS degree today after graduation.

  30. grudznick 2019-10-28

    Perhaps more importantly than getting the MS is to then pass the Principles of Practice of Engineering exam. That’s what the fellows on the street are really looking for. If you don’t have your PE you are but a academic engineer, dabbling in theories only.

  31. Troy 2019-10-28


    I agree with the general thrust of your point with regard to the practical applications of math and them leaving school with the ability to do what you advocate (“statistics—not just standard deviation, correlation, and more complicated measurements but also data moves”). I’m just having a hard time grasping how you can learn statistics without the prerequisites which if I recall correctly included Pre-Calc (which requires Algebra II and Geometry) just to take Stats I. In college, I think I had to have Calc II before Stats II and Calc III before Stats III. However, this is your major so I’m most open to being illuminated.

    I think the bigger issue is to not prematurely or rashly give up on kids ability to do Math (Porter’s problem is very real and affects roughly 25% of students is what I’ve been told). We should identify these students earlier and progress them differently as I (and many others) ascribe to the theory they can learn some level of advanced Math but it has to be done differently than the norm (one theory is experiencially vs. the traditional building blocks).

    Not being fluent at math at a minum level (or panic when they see math) can function almost like a disability as they navigate the workplace (office or plant floor) and ends up disqualifying employees from rising into middle and upper management because analysis increases as the position’s complexity goes up. Too many who could be shop floor managers (district sales managers, etc.) don’t get there because they shut down when they see the Math. We should have dealt with that phobia in grade school.

  32. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    And it is also an issue for dissuading girls from considering careers in STEM fields. That has to stop.

    If they choose to do something else, that is OK. But not being given the time to develop math skills so that a choice could be made is a big deal. We are all poorer for it.

  33. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    My math skills were fully realized in accounting, banking, and business applications which got me into USD School of Business and put me at the top of my class. I’m old enough that calculators weren’t around or allowed in school. With a calculator that does sines, cosines, and tangents as well as what new electronic devices can do I’m sure I could do any math at any level. My brain had no problem with the linear thinking and knowing what needed to be done, just with writing it out and “showing my work”.

  34. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-28

    Sorry, no work, no credit….even if the answer is correct.

    If you do not do the problem correctly, others can see where the solution broke down and provide more helpful feedback.

  35. Ryan 2019-10-28

    I love math and had success in advanced math classes, but I agree with the several people who suggest it’s worthless for most people. The focus on everyone being advanced at everything is silly. I have a “white collar” career and I use basic math only. + – × ÷

    Seems like a similar number of people need to use advanced math as those who need to use advanced chemistry to determine the characteristics of a certain atom, or the proper thickness of a clay bowl to ensure it fires correctly in the art class kiln.

    The people I know who hate math became frustrated by the requirement of learning absurdly impractical math. A well rounded education is important, but there seems to be little attention to common sense and the application of practical knowledge in high school curriculum.

  36. Troy 2019-10-28

    Porter, I didn’t mean you personally. I meant the comments you relayed from your Los Alamos friend. There are too many people who are allowed early in life to believe they can’t learn math. I think that is a form of putting on them an “handcuff” which hinders them for their entire life. And, when I hear a parent say “they are just like me” regarding math I want to scream “If you were born with a club foot and it wasn’t fixed, would you not fix your child’s?” Because a family struggles with alcohol addiction, it isn’t permission to become an alcoholic. It’s a signal to do things different. So it is with what with people who don’t grasp math the same way as most.

  37. Porter Lansing 2019-10-28

    I see what you mean, Troy. Well said.
    I don’t know about the practicality of not being able to use every tool available to get the right answer. That seems like something only a teacher needs to know how to do. Doctors don’t memorize the PDR or not use the computer to help diagnose. Scientists use computers and calculators to do their work. But, Cory’s post is about how best to teach and get kids involved.
    PS … I knew math wizards who couldn’t diagram a simple compound sentence well enough to get better than a C- and asked for my help. ha ha

  38. Clyde 2019-10-29

    I think that relating math to what a child is interested in is very important. I put in my time in school till I hit physics in my high school senior year. I fell in love with physics and topped the class. it explained so many things I had been curious about. And I had finally seen a use for what I had been learning in math classes.

  39. Dicta 2019-10-29

    Calculus is essential for understanding data. The big three math topics for data work are typically linear algebra, calc, and stats. Good luck optimizing a linear regression if you can’t perform gradient descent by calculating a derivative. Stats are baseline, but calc is essential too. It feels more like you want to talk about exploratory data analysis, which could be handled by doing a SQL course and cutting out math entirely past set theory. That isn’t really a good idea, however, and leads to a lot of people implementing statistical tests they don’t really understand. This is all too common in data: people implement tests incorrectly and cannot comprehend how to understand their results.

  40. Darrell Reifenrath 2019-10-29

    We all use calculus every day. Every electronic and mechanical device exists because calculus was used somewhere in its design. The difference is some get paid to use it (engineers and designers) while consumers pay for its benefits.

  41. Kal Lis 2019-10-29

    First, to Grudz’s baking analogy. I would put money on the fact that it was a person with the sensibilities and imagination of a literature major who discovered that adding chocolate chips to the cookie dough made a better cookie. The person with the sensibilities of a math major figured out how many.

    Second, Dr. McTaggart mentioned STEAM. Having spent the better part of my life in a high school classroom, I wish the emphasis had been on STEAM. It’s been STEM for at least a decade, and the discussion here shows that the results have not been what STEM advocates desire. I believe part of the failure had been because the drum beat has had the bass line of “STEM Uber Alles.” STEAM would be a welcome relief.

    A long time ago, Walt Whitman pointed to a similar problem.

    I haven’t got an answer to the problem Whitman illustrates, but teaching math as a hard skill and ignoring the sense of wonder that both imaginary worlds and math can create may also be part of the problem.

    Third, it doesn’t help when the former governor regularly denigrated philosophy which also promotes thought and analysis.

  42. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-29

    I would agree that having the creativity to go along with the analytical toolkit is a powerful combination.

    I don’t disagree with the notion that a lot of jobs today do not require high-order math skills. But those jobs may go away. We do our young people a disservice by not facilitating a path for them to be ready to take calculus in college (if not earlier). Then they can make an informed choice about their career direction.

    If you are not going to college, then being calculus-ready is still helpful for business and general problem solving, if not allowing one to consider college later.


  43. Dicta 2019-10-29

    Innovation and math are in no way mutually exclusive. Much of the current innovation going on worldwide is happening in STEM related fields. Many of the most famous current business leaders were devs or scientists themselves. I don’t understand your point, Porter.

  44. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    Think outside your normal process, Dicta. It may or may not come to you.
    Geniuses often possess both innovation and math/science. Most innovators don’t.

  45. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-29

    Trying to get students to be ready for Calculus by college is a fine goal I suppose. But then the resources need to be there to make that happen. My impression is we’re a long, long way from that being the case.

  46. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-29

    Captain Kirk would have graduated from the fictional Starfleet Academy to captain a ship that moved faster than the speed of light.

    And you think Kirk would not have had to take Calculus?

    The closest thing we have today are officers in the Navy that need physics and calculus before they can be in charge of a vessel that is powered by a small nuclear reactor.

  47. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    Fairly successful innovators that sucked at math …

    -Michael Farraday – built first electric motor

    -Charles Darwin

    -Alexander Graham Bell

    -Thomas Edison – “I can always hire a mathematician but they can’t hire me.”

    Students at Starfleet Academy had computer access for computations. It was their unique innovative skills that propelled them to become Captains. The Enterprise was a war ship with a fully staffed crew of scientists at the Captain’s disposal.

  48. Dicta 2019-10-29

    Nobody is saying you can’t be successful if you do not know math, Porter. We are addressing the false dichotomy that you set up that STEM majors are, apparently, not innovators. In the current economy, I’d say they fit the definition quite well. You don’t have to be good at STEM to be successful, but it helps. Especially now.

  49. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    Let me say it again, then. Innovation is more valuable than STEM. Does that assert that STEM isn’t valuable, Dicta?

  50. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    Back to Cory’s topic. – Bill Gates speaks here about education, specifically about how we teach Math in this country (badly); what absurdly over-packed textbooks we use (sound familiar?); how we teach the same math concepts over and over without real mastery; with the resulting outcome where 60% of our high school graduates are in need of remedial Math before college level with textbooks that are even fatter than high school level.

  51. Dicta 2019-10-29

    Again, you suck at making clear points without coming across like a pompous ass. Further, you also claimed that most innovators don’t possess both science and innovation acumen. Let’s look at the largest companies on earth, and the US, by market cap:

    Apple- Jobs- Comp Sci
    Alphabet/Google- Page and Brin- Comp Sci
    Microsoft- Gates- Comp Sci
    Amazon- Bezos- Engineer
    Facebook- Zuckerberg- Comp Sci
    Berkshire- Buffet- Econ

    All of these, save arguably Buffett, had hard science majors, and Econ is heavy on math. The world is increasingly becoming technology dependent and its leading innovators are tech educated. I’d argue that the best leaders are currently tech savvy and science educated. It teaches a rigorous method of thinking and emphasizes methodological discipline.

  52. Ben Cerwinske 2019-10-29

    For a personal anecdote: I didn’t need remedial math when I got to college. I got an A in my college algebra course. The next semester my roommate took the same course. He asked me for help and I hadn’t a clue. I had forgotten it already.

    I also took Math Concepts courses for my elementary ed. degree. I had a harder time with those than the algebra course.

    What does this mean? I don’t know exactly. But something’s not right.

  53. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    #smiling … In every example (presented by someone who calls names yet hasn’t the courage to give theirs) the person’s innovative skills outweigh their math/science skills. We know that’s true because hundreds of thousands of people have the same math/science skills but didn’t reach even close to the level of success that the named persons did. Thus, it was their innovation that set them apart not their acumen in math or science.
    Did I hit a nerve, Dickta? Is innovation something you lack? Tell us about the most important new idea you’ve had this year.

  54. Dicta 2019-10-29

    Cory knows who I am, and you don’t need to. It’s weird that you pay attention to it. It also feels weird that you just conclude that it was their innovation that set them apart and not tech ability as though the two are completely unrelated. That’s the thing about claims like yours here, Porter: you have no meaningful method of measuring the claims you make and thus they cannot be falsified. This is a basic problem with reasoning.

  55. Porter Lansing 2019-10-29

    Welcome, back Dicta. Don’t be such a stranger. Always a pleasure to talk to ‘ya.

  56. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-29

    Don’t forget Elon Musk from Tesla & SpaceX – Physics.

    Sorry, Captain Kirk didn’t innovate, he followed a screenplay written by somebody else.

    Those in the Air Force ROTC program who pursue a technical degree (STEM degrees) or in a certain foreign language (like Chinese or Russian) get priority for their scholarships.

    You can apply from any major, but those with a technical degree that requires Calculus have a priority path in the Air Force. So if you are willing to serve and are ready for Calculus, you can get your college tuition paid for.

  57. grudznick 2019-10-29

    People just need to face that it is the hard-brained studies really drive the world around us. If you want to work hard and get ahead in the world, do the calculus. It’s OK if you are of the soft-brained sort, you just might need to work harder and be nicer to get as far ahead as your hard-brained neighbors.

  58. Debbo 2019-10-29

    This topic is future focused and these writers believe the next wave of the future is biology. They make a compelling argument. Math, creativity, sciences all will be necessary here too.

    It’s fascinating, frightening and very exciting, all at once.

  59. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-29

    Yes, some of the biologists here at SDSU are among the heaviest users of high performance computing.

  60. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30

    O, I will agree that the whole more-more-more drive of past education reforms (like Kristi’s failed effort to blindly slap civics requirements on top of existing social studies requirements) has the net effect of weakening education by imposing endlessly expanding new requirements that make all requirements harder and harder to fulfill. The requirements are all the more counter-productive when they are crafted by knuckleheads like Kristi Noem who neither like public schools nor understand how education works.

  61. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30

    I’ve used a form of Dr. McTaggart’s argument when I’ve taught algebra and higher math to a general audience. When students cry, “When are we ever going to use this?” I reply, “I don’t know, and neither do you, not yet. But I do know you’ll never use it if you don’t learn it. Now, back to work….”

    Even though I cite the usage figures from the Freakonomics poll, I sympathize deeply with the argument against measuring the value of academic subjects purely by their future practical utility. We study poetry not because we are preparing poets, but because poems are beautiful. Likewise parabolas, ellipses, and the circular pattern of complex numbers raised to positive exponents.

    I wonder, Robert, if we could use stats as a better gateway to higher math. If we can show students the greater likelihood that they’ll use statistical reasoning to do their jobs and understand the world, will they show more interest in math class and thus be more amenable when they get to your doorstep and hear you say, “You want to engineer? You’ll need to take a couple more math classes”?

  62. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30

    Jad, I do love the idea of math. Even when I find a really good story problem, one that shows how math can provide practical results (Hey, look at that: I minimized the cost of my trail mix while maximizing the ratio of craisins and M&Ms to raisins and peanuts!), I’m more thrilled to find evidence that beautiful, rational mathematics undergirds reality.

    Study math with me, and sure, you’ll be able to do a bunch of practical tasks better when you grow up, you will get poetry and cosmic philosophy.

  63. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30

    But I have to wonder, Robert, even from the pure utility perspective, which math will more university students use in more disciplines: calculus or statistics?

  64. Porter Lansing 2019-10-30

    I believe, learn the basics of most math functions and practice, practice, practice the art of estimating. It’s a business tool vital to “The Art of The Deal”. Not a TRump deal but a reasonably self-serving deal. When you’re dealing, the name of the game is speed and an accurate estimate will allow a quick counter offer and often a benefit to your team.
    You can pay a math person to do the busy work but the estimate and a handshake is where math makes money. (good alliteration, huh?)

  65. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-30

    Troy, when I took stats (two classes, big thick books) in the DSU graduate program ten years ago, I do not recall having to do a single calculus operation for any of my homework. Likewise in the various graduate research and statistical analysis I was involved with. I do not posit that DSU’s graduate program exemplifies good stats teaching; I’m just saying calculus does not appear to be practically necessary to learn stats for graduate research.

    There is a strong argument that calc must come first to support fuller grasp of stats… but that feels a little like saying you need to do set theory first to really understand arithmetic. I don’t think the folks in the original post here are talking about that kind of deep complex understanding of stats; I think we’re talking here about making more room in the K-12 curriculum for basic, useful data literacy that is currently almost entirely ignored in our graduation requirements.

    And maybe mathematical thinking is commutative: if learning calc can support learning stats, maybe learning stats can support learning calc.

  66. Troy 2019-10-30

    I am not sure if I remember correct but when I got my undergraduate degree you had to take the classes in this order:

    Calc I, Stat I, Calc II, Stat II, Calc III, or Stat III


    Stat I, Calc I, Stat II, Calc II, Stat III, Calc III

    Or maybe just recommended in order to optimize. What I do remember is they complemented them.

  67. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-30

    Data literacy should also extend to understanding experimental errors, data sampling, and how the accuracy changes with more or less data. Just knowing the machinations of statistics is not enough…calculus and experimental science are great for building that expertise.

    Two polls may disagree numerically, but lie within a standard deviation or so….they basically agree with each other.

  68. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31

    Troy, my SDSU math major was woefully short on stats. I think I was required to take only one stats course, and I got to choose between Math 341 and 381. 341 was math for teachers; 381 was the full stats class. I don’t recall any calculus in 341. Any 381-takers out there who can speak to that curriculum?

    But we’re not talking about making math majors of math teachers. We’re talking about giving citizens working knowledge of data science. Robert, I’m not convinced calculus is necessary for that working knowledge of the errors, sampling, and accuracy changes you’re talking about.

    Remember, I love math. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from calculus. If I had all the time and power in the world, I’d find a way to have everyone do calc and stats before graduating from high school. But I’m willing to reset the K-12 curriculum to have students spend a lot more time collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data, and I’m willing to replace calc, trig, and Algebra 2 to do it.

    How about this: instead of spending 6th, 7th, and 8th grade repeating the same old math problems, we make 6th grade a mix of algebra and data science and build from there?

  69. Porter Lansing 2019-10-31

    Great new idea, Cory. My sixth grade teacher could have gotten my girl crazy brain involved with algebra better than being immersed in such a new thing in seventh, while being nearly overwhelmed with changing classrooms every hour, home room, having a locker, gym class, and all the new freedom that came with Junior High. Sixth would have been easier for me.

  70. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-31


    I would say that being calculus-ready and having a good science background work together to build the skill set that we all desire our students to master.

    There are times when you need to throw out a data point due to a bad measurement….how do you decide to do that? There may be several models that fit the data relatively well. Which one should you choose? (Hint…probably the simpler model is better, but you can say that the data are consistent with a prevailing theory).

    Moreover, those experimental science courses at the college level tend to require calculus as a pre-requisite. So being calculus-ready is important. Even those majoring in business must take science courses with a laboratory….they pick up some of this expertise in a course outside of their major.

    If you want a student to be able to understand where the statistics come from, to understand when a statistical model is valid, or make a predictive model based upon the statistics, then yes, calculus is very useful.

  71. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-10-31

    Remind me, Robert (hey, I took geography for my lab class at SDSU—thank you, Dr. Gab!)—why is calculus a pre-req for those experimental science classes? Is stats also a pre-req?

  72. Robert McTaggart 2019-10-31

    Stats is usually not a pre-requisite for any of the lab courses. It is a pre-requisite for some courses, but usually the labs will have enough stats within the lab manual.

    Basically for the science classes you are determining slopes and areas. As you know, you can do a lot with averages, but at some point the instantaneous changes must be taken into account in order to make a prediction.

    Changes do not always occur at a constant rate, and the answers to new problems are not written in the back of the book.

  73. Troy 2019-11-01

    Students who leave high school math deficient or with math phobia’s are at a disadvantage of those with strong Math skills and their choices of fields of employment are less than people whose shortcoming is writing and communication skills.

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