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27Oct/096

Dismantling the calculus pyramid

Here's a quick 3 minute TED video by Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin. The topic: Benjamin's idea about how to change Math education. He makes the point that Math education is like a pyramid with all classes (e.g. algebra, geometry, trigonometry) building up to calculus. But, he argues, calculus is not very useful to many of us in our ordinary lives. So, what should the pinnacle of the Math pyramid be? Watch the video and leave your comments.

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  1. A beautiful point, and I agree. Everyone should learn at least basic statistics. The one issue with it is that to really understand even moderately developed statistics requires an understanding of calculus. That could of course be worked around by either carefully avoiding those areas or teaching the little bits of calculus needed as it comes up in the statistics class.

  2. I agree with the thrust of the talk, although I can’t agree that it would be “inexpensive.” Timothy Wiseman’s point is quite correct: because the system is structured as a pyramid, there would be significant planning, reeducation of teachers, and reprinting of textbooks necessary to bend the curriculum in this way. But I think it would be worth it; it seems quite clear that the average citizen (the true inheritor of public education) needs to understand statistics more than anything else to understand their world.

  3. While I can agree that people in general would be better off knowing some basic statistics rather than basic calculus, I’m not really certain that would be all that easy to implement. I’ve taught the very elementary statistics that their curriculum calls for to Economics students, and the extremely hard time they had understanding even the simplest concepts was disheartening. I have the feeling that it is a field much more alien to the human brain than calculus, and that it would therefore require much more time and/or effort to get it across.

  4. I agree with the basic idea that an understanding of statistics is important.

    From close association with a number of basic and more advanced statistics courses, statistics appears to be a hard subject to understand. The basic mathematics is not hard – but it’s astonishingly new-concept-dense, even counter-intuitive-concept-dense.

    So – useful, important – no doubt. But making it accessible in a way that the ideas will be retained well enough to be applied in practice, that’s tricky.

  5. Art was a Prof for the Blinkdagger guys @HMC. He has another fun (apolitical) TED talk as a Mathemagician. Also a fun watch.

  6. How would this be implemented?

    In New York we’ve learned that mixing stats into other math courses at the high school level interferes with those other math courses, and doesn’t lead to good stats.

    After algebra, a choice of stats or geometry? Or after geometry?


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