I know this statement is shocking. Some of you may feel that I have heralded the end of civilization as we know it. How on earth will people learn math without the latest and greatest math textbook? The answer is simple. In the same way that people have always learned mathematics before the modern educational system, doing it while going about their daily lives. You may ask “Is that possible?” “Would it work?” I think. It’s why I made this statement when I was asked if my new book, “Mathematics is Child’s Play,” was going to be a math textbook. But to be fair, let’s look at both sides, school math versus everyday math.

Let’s first take a look at school math. I’ve been studying the topic of math anxiety lately. An increasing number of people profess to hate math, to be ‘not good at math’, to be eager to do basic math. These same people were taught math in our public schools. When did this math anxiety situation start? Who knows for sure? But what is significant is that it is increasing, not decreasing. It is increasing despite the modern educational system, despite the New Mathematics and the latest teaching methods, despite all the money and energy that has been invested in the problem. Just for the record, I found a book “Mathematics: A Human Endeavor” by Harold R. Jacobs copyrighted in 1970 which in the preface to it the author mentions the failure of New Math in schools. A 1964 book, titled “Mathematics for Primary Teachers” by Ralph Crouch and George Baldwin, which was written to teach mathematics to primary teachers who were expected to teach mathematics even though they had no mathematics training.

Marilyn Burns, a well-known math expert, has addressed math anxiety from 1970 with her first book, “I Hate Mathematics,” to her most recent book, “Math; Facing an American Phobia” from 1998. The latest book discusses the math. Anxiety as a growing phenomenon. And more recently, Rosanne Proga’s “Math for the Anxious,” copyrighted 2005, is also very clear about math anxiety and its causes. Of course, all this math anxiety is a good thing; at least it is for the math textbook industry. Math anxiety sells math textbooks. Parents worry that their children learn math better than they do. Teachers are asking for a better way to teach math. This is great news for math textbook companies. For you and me, this is bad news.

So let’s look at the other side. Is it possible for people to learn mathematics in everyday life? running your business or home, doing projects, etc.? it’s possible? I think it is and it is already happening without anyone noticing. My daughter professed to hate math, but she studies it every day at Neopets. When I asked her about it, she said it wasn’t real math. So what kind of math was she? I think she meant it wasn’t “school math.” I met an airline pilot who went into detail about the calculations she made in her head to fly the plane. She later stated that she hated math at school. She wasn’t ‘good at it’. She wasn’t even able to balance her own checkbook. When I pointed out to her that the calculation she did to fly the plane was mathematical, she insisted that it wasn’t because she wasn’t good at math in school. She said, “It’s just a formula that I plug numbers into.” Marilyn Burn relates a similar story about an interior decorator who could calculate the price of an entire room, but who also felt that she was not good at math. These are people who couldn’t do ‘school math’ but are doing the math that their everyday lives demand of them. They probably learned this math on the job; therefore, they do not relate it to school mathematics.

Mathematics is best learned in the real world, with real life situations. You can start by counting the cookies his mother gives you. Then you start comparing the number you got to the number your brother got. You quickly learn to calculate “how much” he received more than you, so that your complaint is accurate. Next, you are watching mom cut the cake or pie. You quickly work out how many pieces each person can have, that is until mom steps in and she tells you how many you can really have. Then she figures out how many she can have tomorrow without all those guests. This is a simple real-life scenario, but how many math concepts did I cover here? These skills grow with your children. How many of you have seen your older children go through their Halloween candy? My son spells and counts to assess how he did. Halloween is also a great time to teach about taxes. Parents should take their share of the sweet profits, and not just the sweets the child doesn’t like. Remember, Uncle Sam cuts off his top before you even see a dime.

Playing is a great way to learn math. I like miniature golf and pool to learn about angles and strength. Of course, this may sound like Physics, Newton’s Law of Relativity. And it is, but there is also no better way to learn geometry and algebra than with a practical application. What could be more practical than learning while playing? Wow, here’s another real life example for learning math. I like to play games. You say it; board games, card games, strategy games. If it challenges me and tests my intellect and problem-solving abilities, I like it. Games like Nim, checkers, chess, mancala, Stratego, Battleship, Risk, etc. help develop logical sequences and strategies. Games like Uno, Skip-bo, Set, Rummikub help children develop their ability to see patterns. Games like cribbage, gin rummy, Scrabble really help kids to practice addition and multiplication.

But enough of games, let’s talk about serious things. If you want to learn math, do a project like decorating a room. Do all the work, from calculating the paint or wallpaper, to calculating the material and sewing the curtains, to ordering and placing the furniture. Design a new cabinet layout for your kitchen, including calculating cabinet dimensions, appliance locations, and project costs. Try building something like a desk or swing set on the playground, or a go-cart. How about doing a baking or sewing/quilting project? Do all the preparations for a dinner party, including planning, shopping, seating arrangements, cooking, etc. Try paper trading a few stocks and tracking them for a year. Start an eBay business. wow! Wouldn’t it be amazing if your child’s math project turned into a home business that pays for your child’s college education? It is possible and it is real life.

When it comes to learning math, everyday life is full of opportunities and learning is natural, not forced. On the other hand, the problem of math anxiety has its roots in our modern educational system. The problem lies in having non-mathematical experts teaching mathematics as if they were experts. The problem lies in having math textbooks that present math in an artificial and rigid way. As much as I loved Marilyn Burns’s book, “Mathematics: Confronting an American Phobia,” I think the correct conclusion to the situation was missed. Mrs. Burns is still trying to ‘fix’ the system. It’s obvious to me that it’s time to throw out the system and relearn math in everyday life. Therefore, I stand by my statement “The last thing the world needs is another math textbook.”

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