General Question

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

My pet notion regarding the teaching of mathematics in high school: basic probability and statistics should take priority over calculus. What do you think?

Asked by hiphiphopflipflapflop (6067 points ) April 3rd, 2009
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12 Answers

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Well, if you’re talking about the stat courses taught to business and psych majors, I’d be OK with it. It depends on where the student is going to go in math. You need integral calculus at least to understand probability theory beyond things like coin-toss problems, so I’d still teach calculus first.

crisw's avatar

Agreed, and these fields should be tied into real-world examples, to help kids learn not to be flummoxed by hype when they read. Basic probability confounds most people.

Les's avatar

I agree with your general notion, but I don’t think greater importance should be placed on one over the other. You can teach high school students probability and statistics and still teach them calc.

wundayatta's avatar

FOr most social science statistics, there is no need for calculus. Only economists really need calculus.

Statistics really is very simple. It’s just a lot of adding and subtracting, and a little bit of multiplying. It can all be understood intuitively, simply by looking at real world problems (which is what it is used for, anyway).

If you ask someone what they want to know (research question) and you ask them to gather the data to find out what they want to know, they will quickly invent stats for themselves. All you need after that is to show them the various techniques and the software to use, and how to understand the results.

Calculus is a more advanced course than stats. Far more advanced, in my opinion. People who are really interested in math should do that, but I think it has fewer applications in the real world than most people will need. People need stats far more often than calc.

Les's avatar

@daloon: Uh. I use calculus. And I’m not an economist. And, I don’t know about most high schools, but at my school, calculus was only an option of a course. Most people didn’t take it. It was only those of us who wanted to who did.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@Les, @Daloon, I do, too, at least I did when I was working on real time systems. Basic stats is fine for practical problems in business or social sciences, but when you get into areas where you have to understand probability distributions – the Poisson distribution is a biggie for me, then you need to at least know the significance of the area underneath a curve. Hence you need calculus.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I agree. Statistics is useful for a wide variety of jobs. It is also helpful for college prep as it is very useful in understanding research studies. Calculus… ehhh… not so much.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, for most of us, when we’re facing a Poisson distribution, we identify it, and choose the appropriate statistical tool to analyze it. The software is sufficiently advanced, that we don’t have to understand the math; we do, however, need to understand how to interpret our results.

casheroo's avatar

I’d take the statistics course, because any major I’ve ever had in college, and I’ve had many, I’ve needed a statistics course. Also, statistics and calculus were both options to seniors at my high school, most picked statistics.

sebulba23's avatar

It would be nice if the math required to take in life had some sort of meaning to people like myself who have no desire to go into a field revolving around it. There should be more practical ways to do things. The whole concept of math irritates me in that things seem to be used just because its the way it always has been. For example, why do we use the degree system, whenever we could have used the grad system (why is there 90 degree angles for an L shape instead of 100? These kind of practical things always have bothered me, as I am an analytical person that likes things to be easily understood by being almost self-explanatory. Math just cannot accomplish this.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@sebulba23 , there is some practicality to a 360° circle. The number 360 is evenly divisible by 2,3,5, and 9. How would you express a common angle like 60° in a 400-grad circle? You can’t do it evenly.

Fields that don’t revolve around math are getting scarcer, though. Not much demand for English Lit majors outside of academics, for instance.

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