kitchen table math, the sequel: Math in the real world

Friday, May 29, 2015

Math in the real world

Excerpt from:
Multiple Numeric Competencies: When a Number Is Not Just a Number
by Ellen Peters & Par Bjalkebring
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
May 2015, Vol. 108, No. 5, 802–822
Jeff is a friend of one of the authors and a highly skilled carpenter who claims he is “no good at math.” He excels, however, at estimating the angles, lengths, and areas that are critical to his craft. Ruth, a smart and personable woman in her 70s, broke down crying while attempting to answer questions about numeric data in a Medicare insurance choice experiment. She explained through tears that she was “not a numbers person” and that her husband always did such tasks for them until his death 2 years prior. Numbers were fraught with emotion for her. Individuals like Jeff and Ruth are common. Although students often ask why they should learn math and whether it will ever be useful, Jeff and Ruth provide examples of the importance of everyday math, belief in one’s numeric ability, and (in Jeff’s case) how compensatory numeric skills might exist.

Making good choices in life often involves understanding and using numeric information (Hibbard, Peters, Slovic, Finucane, & Tusler, 2001; Thaler & Sunstein, 2003; Woloshin, Schwarz, & Welch, 2004). Choosing the best health insurance involves calculating likely annual costs from monthly premiums, deductibles, and office and pharmacy copayments. Making an informed decision about a medical treatment or screening option requires understanding risk and benefit information (including their probabilistic nature). Such numeric data are provided to facilitate informed choices, but numbers can be confusing and difficult for even the most motivated and skilled individuals, and these issues are exacerbated among the less numerate. In the present article, we explore the value of explicitly considering multiple measures of numeric competence—objective numeracy, subjective numeracy, and the mapping of symbolic numbers. We review their likely interrelations, test their possible dissociable roles in evaluations and decision processes, and consider future directions in personality and social-psychological processes.
I find the image of a woman in her 70s crying over math profoundly sad.

I guess that's what I was trying to say about my years reteaching math at home--about not getting what I wanted, but getting what I needed instead. (scroll down to end of post)

After all the crying shouting over math around here during the middle years, I'm pretty sure I managed to raise a child who does not, at this point, define himself as "no good at math."

It wasn't easy.

But it was definitely fun.

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