My colleague Ralph Raimi is witty, acerbic and wise about many things, but particularly about mathematics education. A little time spent browsing around his web page will reap ample rewards in the form of both entertainment and edification. Today I’d like to share a little passage he sent me by email:
I have never tried to count the times I have read a newspaper article explaining that students are bored with math that has no visible practical application, and follows with an example of a teacher, or club, that rectifies the situation in some novel and engaging way.
In the present case a class has built a sculpture that resembles a graph of a modulated wave motion. Of all the practical, real-world
applications of mathematics! It is as practical as a snowman.
Why doesn’t anyone ask for real-world applications of table tennis? What a bore any game must be, that has no real-world application! Why do kids stand for it? Ping-pong again? Ugh.
But I can think of something: Let’s all make a model of a ping-pong ball in the school yard, seventy feet high, blocking all the entrances and thus preventing all us students from entering the (ugh) school. Then we can take our fishing poles and torn straw hats out from under our beds and, with the hats on our heads and fishing poles over our shoulders, all traipse together down the dusty road to Norman Rockwell’s house.