Issue: What can be done to help to better understand the role of mathematical thinking in future careers?
Observation: In my work with classroom teachers I find a definite "math phobia." For example, in our observatonal environmental assessment program, teachers are very reluctant to complete the formula for finding latitude and longitude. The good news is that the students seem more willing than the teachers.
As with the environment, mathematical concepts are more relevant when infused into other topics and areas. Of course, there is a need for basic skills, but each discipline uses mathematics in different processes. Almost every discipline uses some form of mathematics; thus mathematics is more relevant when taught as part of other disciplines.
Environmental work relies heavily on mathematics. We have engaged many student in mathematics work through their interest in the environment. For example, when conducting an environmental assessment, a student would determine ratios, ascertain flow rates, take resource (e.g. water) measurements, apply formulae and conduct species counts.
Susan Handley is Coordinator of Environmental Education Programs for Region 10 (Seattle) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.