What’s the Purpose?

Awhile back, Dan Meyers posted about how a teacher’s stance about why we study math will strongly affect the classroom s/he creates. In particular, he talks about the different classrooms that will come from a stance of students will be interested if they see that this math is useful for a job versus this math is fascinating and cool and makes me have questions. (Read his post; he says it better.)


I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’ve spent time during my professional life feeling compelled by each stance. Now, I believe both have their place. But in particular, I’m excited about talking to students about this!

If I were to break up the math that happens in my version of Algebra 1, I would put it in 4 categories.

1) Math is fascinating/fun (ex. Eric the Sheep).

2) Math is useful, in two fairly distinct categories.

  • It can model what we do in real life in a way that’s illuminating even if you wouldn’t actually “do this” (ex. modeling real life linear functions in a variety of ways)
  • This is how people actually use math in their jobs (ex. exhibition)

3) The Geometry teachers will have my head if I don’t teach you this (ex. solving one-variable equations with lots of steps).

I plan to discuss these categories with students and then share with them what math we’re doing and why. I think owning the purpose will aid student buy-in a lot. I can say things like, “We’re going to model guitar lessons using math. You probably wouldn’t actually do this in real life, but let’s see what you notice because it might make some things clear.”  Or, “This is how social scientists actually use the math we’ve been learning.” Or, “This has absolutely no real life applications except problem solving is good for your brains and this is cool.” Or, “Yup, we’re going to learn a content skill right now and practice it. It’s going to get algorithmic for a minute, but here’s why this thing is so important to have down, and I promise I’ll only do this to you occasionally.”



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