## 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:

- many elementary school teachers generally do not have an
understanding of what a "wide variety of word problems" actually means;
and
- 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