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Real Life Problems

by Kevin J. Maguire, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia


In "California's Math Reforms Aim to Inspire Economy of Thought," Calvin Moore argues for more emphasis on "real-life" applications in the teaching of mathematics. As a teacher of teachers and one currently involved with an elementary school which is undertaking the development of its mathematics curriculum, I find this brief article quite interesting. Based on forty year experience with elementary teaching, I agree wholehearted with the tenor of the paper.

One factor which troubles me however is the difficult I faced as an elementary school teacher in developing "real-life" mathematical situations. I really tried to do this, but upon reflection I actually failed.

The NCTM Standards, together with many similar mathematical statements throughout much of the English speaking world, stress the importance of exposing children to a "wide variety of word problems" (to cite an instance). An analysis of the word problems I generated for my pupils shows just how woeful they were.

This raises two very important factors faced by teachers here in Australia and, I guess from what I read on various math-oriented lists, in the US also, viz:

  1. many elementary school teachers generally do not have an understanding of what a "wide variety of word problems" actually means; and
  2. even given that understanding, most teachers do not have the time to generate problems based upon the children's "real-life" situations.
To rely upon text books, I believe, is to divorce the mathematics curriculum from the classroom and real life, thus raising the question of "How does one ameliorate this situation?".

The "Maths in Schools" project in which I'm currently participating may be one way ahead. The whole school is auditing its math curriculum from its policy statement through a full evaluation of not only what is taught but also how it is taught. This is done in conjunction with an evaluation of the teaching and learning strategies of the teachers.


Kevin J. Maguire teaches at the Bundoora Campus of La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia. He can be reached by email at: edukjm@luga.latrobe.edu.au




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Last Update: 06/27/96