In my daily search for math news, I found this great clip from TED from 2009 by Arthur Benjamin. The overall message from Professor Benjamin is that calculus shouldn’t be the pinnacle of high school math courses that we push all students to strive for, but rather statistics and probability should be the ‘mecca’ of high school mathematics.
His argument is as follows:
“Very few people actually use calculus in a conscious, meaningful way in their day-t0-day lives. On the other hand, statistics, that’s a subject that you could, and should, use on a daily basis. It’s risk, it’s reward, it’s randomness….it’s understanding data. I think if our high school students, if all the American citizens knew about probability and statistics, we wouldn’t be in the economic mess we are in today.”
I am in complete agreement with Professor Benjamin that calculus is a very important subject and students should take it by the end of their freshman year in college, but statistics should be required in high school. Statistics is math that is relevant, useful and practical, but few students are pushed towards it. And, as Professor Benjamin points out, statistics and probability can also be really fun. What student doesn’t love predicting who will win Friday’s football game or whether it will snow enough to get a day off from school?
I say we make Statistics & Probability a required math course for all students, much like Algebra and Geometry. It’s not an easy sell…I know from experience. You wouldn’t believe the flack I got from my oldest daughter’s guidance counselor when we put her in AP Prob/Stats instead of calculus! But – she loved it, uses it, got a 5 on the AP test, and gained back an appreciation for and enjoyment of mathematics that she had lost. (FYI – she’s taking calculus next year in college).
Let’s face it – not everyone is going towards a career that requires the use of calculus, but everyone is going to use statistics and probability. The Common Core State Standards clearly place statistics and probability as crucial mathematical standards that all students should master. Data analysis is embedded in all the standards. The Statistics & Probability Standards emphasize the importance of being able to use data, particularly variable data, to make decisions and predictions. Adopting the Common Core means changing not only how we teach math, but what we teach. Let’s do what’s best for the majority of our students.