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Why is Mathematics like a Drivers License?

Do you need to be a mechanic to drive?  Do you need to be a Mathematician to calculate how much paint to buy?  It is like hitting a nail with a pile driver to get the job accomplished.

Now are all drivers licenses the same? No, here in Ontario you have M for motorcycles, G for general driving, and then classes F up to A for buses, trucks, ambulances …   Each higher level needs a stronger skill level to achieve that license. Do we train everyone to be a mechanic to learn how to drive? No you go for the license for you need.

So now let’s look at Mathematics and the dilemma we have today.  We tend to lump Mathematics into one massive lump.  When I went to school, I did Arithmetic till grade 6 before I heard of Mathematics.  The fundamental manipulation of integers (drill and kill), fractions (including percents) and problem solving was my first six years (yes there was geometry and measurement as well). My G license in Math.

In high school my sights were sent being an engineer like my uncle so the math courses selected was for that target. Pursuing the lower math courses would not get me there. So my F or E license here. This is why we have the different levels for mathematics as not everyone follows the same path.  We definitely should not be barriers to our students but an open hand to assist them on their way.

As many other students, my focus changed for university, now it was a B.SC in Mathematics (becoming that mechanic).  Other classmates became doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants which are all higher level of licenses. While others went into the workforce with a G license level of Mathematical knowledge for day to day living and their careers they pursued.

What I have heard from fellow secondary teachers, community college and university professors is that we have many students deficient in integer  – fraction (convert everything to decimals for the calculator)  and problem solving (literacy) skills. This gap also is present with honor students in my Calculus class. They grasp the concepts of the higher licenses but do not have the fundamental driving skills.

Times have changed, so has the cars and the technology in them. My next blog will look at Mathematics in the changing classroom (workforce).


About Mark Brighton

High school Mathematics teacher in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. See About for more info.

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