How should the mathematics we teach students change over time? Should students learn the same things in 2020 as they will in 2070 or 2120? What about 2520? I believe that how a person answers these questions depends a lot on how he or she see math’s purpose.
If math’s purpose is giving students basic foundational skills, this might lead someone to believe that math’s foundational skills stay the same so we’ll always be teaching roughly the same mathematics.
If instead math’s purpose is giving students the skills they need to be productive members of society, this might lead someone to believe that what we teach should change over time. After all, the workplace skills people needed in 1920 differ from those needed in 1970 which still differ from those needed in 2020.
By 1970 though, as calculators became more common, employees could use this tool to compute the sales tax and instead spend their time considering different problems that used to be so complicated that they were previously unrealistic to do.
For example, consider this story about Lewis Fry Richardson who in the 1920s created a formula to predict the weather six hours ahead of time. The problem was that he had to make so many calculations that “he needed six weeks to produce a weather forecast for the next six hours – and even then it was not very accurate.” So by the 1970s, as calculators and computers became more commonplace, less time could be spent on computing the numbers and more time spent on making better formulas to predict the weather.
Now in 2020, we have a new wave of technology including apps that can instantly solve math problems for us. This is amazing to me because the idea that something like this would ever exist was unimaginable when I was a kid… and it should make you wonder what currently unimaginable innovations await future generations.
What do you think? What am I wrong about? What do you agree with me on? Please let me know in the comments.