The Real World Of Mathematics

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Today's future generation of leaders faces new challenges in their ability to succeed in the world today because of their lack of ability to relate knowledge to ever day scenarios. Technological advances and the globalization of the economy have placed students entering the workforce in direct competition with workers as far afield as India and China. At the same time, our students lag behind in reading and math skills that are critical for success in the working world (SC of Higher Education, 2005). But how do we expect them to succeed in such skills when they can't make a connection between what they are learning and how that knowledge will be used? There have been various solutions for solving this problem. This paper examines some of those solutions such as the EEDA Act, career clusters, and contextual learning in career centers and public schools as well as the implications of math in various careers.

The Real World of Mathematics

The teacher's role has changed in recent years. Today our role leans more towards facilitator or "guide on the side". Our role is to increase student motivation and develop the skills or strategies that make a student more competent and to structure the learning environment so that students are able to take ownership of their own learning. What better way to by increasing their intrinsic motivation through contextual teaching and learning. Many public schools today are developing programs that enable this type of teaching and learning through the use of the EEDA Act and the 16 career clusters.


On May 27, 2005, Governor Mark Sanford signed the Education and Economic

Development Act (EEDA), new legislation designed to give South Carolina students the educational tools they need to build prosperous, successful futures (SC of Higher Education, 2005, Para. 1). This Act is a new approach to education and workforce development that seeks to better prepare all youth in the state of South Carolina for careers in high-skill, high-wage jobs and to strengthen the linkages between what is learned in school with work.

Within the EEDA Act, there is a program called Personal Pathways to Success to help South Carolina students and businesses meet these challenges. Combining high academic standards with enhanced opportunities to explore career options and build real-life working skills, Personal Pathways to Success gives students the guidance and experience they need to take full advantage of real opportunities in the South Carolina economy (SC of Higher Education, 2005, Para. 1). Not only does the program maintains the traditional of requirements of high school graduation, but also requires that all students must declare a major of study in one of 16 different career clusters.

Career Clusters

According to Pam Kirk, career clusters director for the states' Career Clusters Initiative, defined career clusters as "tools used to organize instruction and learner experiences (Pre-K through career) in community and technical colleges, career academies, work-based learning programs, small learning communities, magnet schools, charter schools and high schools that are restructuring around career themes" (Sibert, Rowe, & McSpadden, 2007, pg. 1). The 16 different clusters encompass all occupations. Each cluster has two levels of technical expertise. The foundation level identifies all skills shared between the occupations within a cluster. The pathway level details more specific knowledge sets necessary for each subgroup in order to develop a curriculum around a desire career implementing basic skills such as reading and math ("Putting Learning into context", 2008). This is where contextual teaching and learning comes into place.

Contextual Learning

Many philosophers have expressed the importance of contextual learning, take John Locke for example. John Locke felt that as humans we were born with blank slates (tabula rasa) and that we learn through a combination of our senses and observation and experience and memory. Contextual learning is a phrase that describe the connection between what is learn in the classroom and relating them to the real-world through hands-on experiences. Project-based learning would be an excellent example of this type of learning.

Project-based learning was developed by John Dewey in 1950's. To develop skills in problem solving, educators design contextual group activities in which students worked together, as they would in the work place."He emphasize the social aspects of learning and viewed schools as places where students could practice democracy and have opportunities to work together to identify problems" (Daniels & Bizar, 1998, Para. 2).  Projects that make connections between curriculum and the work place have been, "…a time proven approach for providing rigorous, relevant, contextual, applied learning in a manner consistent with how learning takes place in the adult world and is also compatible with how the brain learns more efficiently" (Blank & Harwell, 2001, Para. 2).

16 Career Clusters and Contextual learning in Public Schools

Public schools such as Lake Marion High School in Santee, SC and Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 in Orangeburg, SC have taken into effect the EEDA Act and its 16 Career Clusters along with contextual learning. Lake Marion has created a technology center within its school creating an integrated curriculum which is a movement toward integrated lessons helping students to make connections across a curriculum of a chosen major (career) to basic academic knowledge and practice (Awbrey, Dana & Miller, etc., 2006). Teachers interact with each other to build a lesson plan base around the student's career incorporating math and reading.

Students as early as the 8th grade go through a process call Career Guidance. The Career Guidance Process is the process of helping young high school students in determining the next step after high school and the necessary steps needed to plan for their future. There are three steps in the career guidance process: 1.) An Initial Interview; 2.) Psychometric Testing; and 3.) Counseling / Feedback Session (Cross, 2009). The initial interview allows you to get to know the person. The second step psychometric testing, allows you to examines the person personalities, what motivates them to work and what gives them job satisfaction, and their work style as well as how they behave at work. During the final session, the results of the testing are discussed with the individual along with the various career options and career pathways that are recommended and finally, a Career Action Plan is devised (Cross, 2009). The overall of this program is to find out a student's strengths and talents to find a job that best fits who they are and their abilities.

After the Career Guidance Process the next step for these students is to make an Individual Graduation Plan (IGP). An Individual Graduation Plan is known to be a road map to your future. The IGP includes information on your postsecondary goals, career cluster of choice, courses required for graduation, and electives that coordinate with your career goals. Why do we need to plan? Nothing help move things along better than a good plan. IGP is an effective tool to motivate and guide all students to understand what graduation from high school, college, and technical school can mean to their career advancement. 

The Orangeburg Consolidated School District has created a career center that offers 14 out of 16 of the career clusters. Within these career clusters Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 has created a "numeracy plan", where teachers will apply math to everyday life. The goal of this plan is to show the implications of math in every career from culinary arts to cosmetology. Another project that they have is Project Lead Away. Project Lead Away is design to get high school students interested in technology.

Within this facility, there are various hands on labs such as a cosmetology center, Apple Lab, Health Science Lab, Culinary Arts, CISCO (pc repair programs), and child care center just to name a few. Inside these various career centers students gain hand on experiences and instruction in their chosen career. They learn the implications reading and math in their chosen careers. For example in the culinary arts lab, students gain hands-on experience by learning how to make and cook various dishes. The implications of math in this career would be measuring, increasing/decreasing ingredients, fractions, and equivalency (16ounces = 1 lb.).

One special hands-on lab that is being created at Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 technology center would be the mechatronics lab. When Tetsura Mori, a senior engineer for Yaskawa Electric Corp., coined the term "mechatronics" in 1969, most people had no idea what it was. Today, it's hard not to come across mechatronics in some way, shape, or form (Payne, 2008). Functionally, this term is a blend of mechanical systems and electronics such as automatic door openers and autofocus cameras. These labs well allow students in automotives and engineering from helping to develop a part for a computer, brakes for a car, or even to build a robot for outer space travel.

Implications of Math in Various Careers

The degree of math changes with every subject or career. But one may ask how can math be implemented in a career like cosmetology? Well in order to become a hairstylist one of the requirements is be able to cut hair. Cosmetologists have to be able to cut hair in all types of angles this is where geometry plays an important role. Vidal Sassoon has no intentions of becoming a hairstylist but after setting up his first salon, for nine years he experimented with new cuts and techniques, searching for simple, elegant styles. By 1963, he had pioneered the Bob and Five-Point Cut, which made him famous and gave him the title "the founder of modern hairdressing" and the "father of geometric hairstyling" (Biography on Bio, 2005). He set the foundation for geometric hairstyling using angles and parallel lines.

Math can be found also in careers like automotives and statisticians. In automotives, you can use quadratic formulas to find the speed, velocity, and acceleration of a car. As well the time it takes for the car to travel at a certain speed to a certain distance. The system of equations can be implemented in career of statisticians. You can use the system of equations in this career by using the process of elimination or substitution to determine important statistics in sports, marketing, etc. For example Basketball Statistics:

"In basketball, a free throw is worth 1 point and a field goal is ether 2 points or 3 points. In the2007-2008 season, Chris Paul scored a total of 1684 points. The total number of 2 point and 3 point field goals he made was 630 and the total number of free throws he made was 332. Using a system of equations, determine how many 2-point field goals and 3-point field goals Chris Paul made in the 2006-2007 season?"

Free throws + 2-point field goals + 3-point field goals = 1684

332 + 2x + 3y = 1684

x + y = 630 → y = 630 - x

332 + 2x + 3(630-x) = 1684

332 + 2x + 1890 - 3x = 1684

2222 - x = 1684

-x = -538

x = 538 (the number of 2-point field goals)

x + y = 630

538 + y = 630

y = 92 (the number of 3-point field goals) [1]