Teaching Why Math Matters

Shannon Rossman Allen
“I’m never going to use math when I grow up unless I’m a math teacher.” Has that statement been uttered in your household? It’s a statement that many parents have heard—over and over again—as their students struggle through their algebra, geometry, statistics, chemistry, etc. homework. To help students understand how math factors into many career fields, Middle School Math Teachers Hester Burdman and Michael Parker asked sixth-grade parents to volunteer to come to one of their classes and share with students how they use math in their careers.
 
“For one thing, an activity like this offers a break for students from the drill of practicing math day in and day out,” Parker said. “They get the opportunity to see math applied.”
 
In total, 17 parents from varied careers came to campus to speak with students about math in their everyday work lives. Those sixth-grade parents are:
 
Katie Abercrombie: Auditor for Kimbell Art Foundation
Frank Anderson: Assistant Vice President of Marketing Equipment, BNSF Railroad
Ashley Baker: Fitness, Life and Wellness Coach, Orangetheory  Coach
Brian Bell: Real Estate Broker and Manager, Campana Resources
Jennifer Bethea: Operations Accounting Director, XTO
Dr. Sean Callahan: Ear,  Nose and Throat Doctor
Bill Clinkscale: President, Henderson Oil and Propane
Dr. Monica Cyprian: Orthopedist
Lieutenant Edward Fishman: Arson and Bomb Squad Commander, Fort Worth Fire Department
Tonia Fishman: Art Teacher and Web Designer, Saint Maria Goretti Catholic School
Kevin Grebe: SVP- Strategy and Corporate Development, State National Insurance Company
Matt Homan: Building Manager for the Multi-Purpose Arena Fort Worth
Dr. Natalia Humphreys: Clinical Professor and Associate Head of the Actuarial Program, UT Dallas
Lauren Jordan: Computer Science Engineer
Ian Lee: CEO at Twincrest Technologies
Cristin Leoni: Owner /Instructor, Studio C Dance
Dr. Allison Readinger: Dermatologist, Trinity Vista Dermatology
 
“Kids respond well to speakers who are sharing real-world advice,” Burdman said, “and they are so proud to show off their parents. There’s a real excitement among the students to hear how math affects someone’s life.” 
 
Many of the parents talked about having the same “I’ll never need math when I grow up mentality.” They each assured students that math would be a staple in their lives. Simple daily tasks like balancing your checkbook, creating a family budget, determining how many miles to a gallon your car gets while traveling on vacation are just a handful of ways math impacts lives.
 
For Dr. Sean Callahan, an ear, nose and throat doctor, it was a nice break in his day to talk to the sixth-graders. “We have truly wonderful, interested and brilliant children at Fort Worth Country Day,” he shared.
 
Dr. Callahan’s presentation focused on math applications in medicine. “Students had the opportunity to calculate body mass index and perform medication dosage calculations based on their weight and pharmaceutical concentrations,” he said. “I also discussed facial reconstruction and design, which involves a lot of geometry. The last topic may have been a little beyond their years, but I want to push them a bit and hopefully leave a lasting impression of the importance of math and its everyday applications in my practice.”

Tonia Fishman, an art teacher and web designer, shared that she feels math is a skill that is often overlooked even in its most minute detail; yet, we could scarcely function without it.  Our daily routines usually comprise alarm clocks, watches, getting dressed, making breakfast, brushing our teeth, etc., all of which require math skills. If you're pouring yourself a bowl of cereal, how much will fit in your bowl? How much milk will you use? All these tiny things are heavily steeped in math.
 
“As an art teacher, I constantly use math. How much paint do I need? Which colors will I mix? What proportions of each of those colors will I need to produce the desired effect?  Am I applying enough elements of art and principles of design to achieve the overall knowledge I want my students to experience when we complete this project?,” Fishman said. “When I'm planning my art lessons, I must use my math skills to determine how many classes it will take for a given grade to complete a project.”
 
She also talked about colors. “Most people don't realize that colors are mathematically based: the darker the color, the higher the number; the lighter a color, the lower the number,” Fishman shared. “The same can be said for web design. I must determine what my page restraints are, what information to I want to communicate, how I want a particular section/module to look so that it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.”
 
Fishman also employs math as a yearbook editor, as he matches proportions and symmetry, as well as line, balance, color, form, space, emphasis, pattern, rhythm, unity, contrast.  “All of these items require a good foundation in math, which I didn't realize until I was an adult,” she noted. “We use Math every single day, hundreds of times a day. I find it amazing how often we don't even think about math, but it is such an integral part of our everyday lives.”
 
Burdman and Parker are both grateful to the parents who give their time to this important program. “We very much appreciate our parents for taking time out of their day to speak with the students,” they said. “We understand it requires schedule-shifting on their part, but we believe in the value of this lesson.” Burdman and Parker have been conducting this math “lecture series” for the past three years, and Burdman has employed it for even longer.
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4200 Country Day Lane, Fort Worth, TX 76109
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Fort Worth Country Day (FWCD) is a K-12 private, independent, coeducational, nondenominational college-preparatory school located on approximately 100 acres in Fort Worth, Texas. The mission of Fort Worth Country Day School is to foster the intellectual, physical, emotional, and ethical development of capable students through an academically rigorous college preparatory program that integrates the arts and athletics.