Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In Which I Solicit Advice from My Vast Readership

O Vast Readership, maybe some of you will be able to help me figure out what I should do with the latest opportunity I have been afforded!

Later this month, I will be speaking at my local middle school's career day. My topic is "Math Careers," and I have a half hour allotted to me during each math period. My target audience is 8th graders (13-year-olds), I believe, but the school goes from 5th-8th grades.

I'd like to engage them and keep them interested in what I'm talking about. I could drone on and on about things that they will probably find boring, but what I was thinking was that quite honestly, every job they will ever have will involve math to a greater or lesser degree. I thought I might inform them of that fact, give some examples (e.g., cooking, which requires knowledge of fractions, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction) before proceeding on to more math-based careers (such as scientist, engineer, computer scientist, and mathematician). But I'm not really sure what specifically to say and I'm not sure how I'm going to fill a half-hour, or maybe let's say 25 minutes with five minutes for questions. ;)

This is where the expertise of my vast readership comes in. I was an atypical 13-year-old in that I would have actually been fascinated by anything an actual mathematician had to say, so I am lacking a certain perspective. Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Fractions are elementary school and boring especially for the 10% of audience that will be interested. These students should be learning algebra concepts. How about giving a calculus preview. Like check out this amazing infinite series, I wonder what it adds up to?

Or maybe explain that many mathematics courses are taught as a cookbook of formulas. That's until you get to college courses where you learn fun stuff that makes GPS, vidoegames, and iphones work

Try to dumb this down

Sally said...

I'm sure there's a need for math in many of the sports-oriented careers. Of course, I don't have any specific examples (batting averages?) because I'm a bit clueless about sports. You might do a bit of research on that for the less academically inclined.

Oh, and building careers like carpentry, construction and architecture also need a lot of (basic) math.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog ... this is my first post.

My parents asked my high school teacher what I could do with math as a career, since I liked math so much, and his reply was "be a high school math teacher"!

Despite that advice, I eventually found myself in the physical sciences.

Obviously you already have a much better perspective on potential careers with math than my high school teacher!

I think you are on the right track by starting out with something the kids can all relate to (cooking) and expand from there - and I would use as many visuals as possible.

Maybe start by brain-storming a list of all possible math careers and then sort them into more general categories. For each category, give a personal story (or more expanded example) and pictures (if possible).

Some examples I can think of off the top of my head are:

* engineering - bridge building, robotics ...
* architecture - area/spatial reasoning
* geophysics - mathematical models to describe the surface and interior of the earth.
* physics - going into outer space, etc ..
* bio sciences
* any science really ...

* actuarial sciences
* business/stock market

* you already give us lots of great examples with your blog :-)

Or you could create categories by types of math: Linear algebra (computing), calculus (engineering/engineering physics), geometry (architecture), etc. (Although 5th graders won't know about linear algebra or calculus - but this sorting might help you clarify your thinking).

It's harder than I thought to give more concrete examples for each category, but I'll keep thinking about it.

I applaud your efforts to let kids know what careers are out there. I think we all should be doing more of this! Great job :-)

Drew said...

I'm giving a talk to some middle school kids about math in a few weeks, so I chose "making and breaking secret codes" as the title of my talk. I hope to show them that math can be fun, exciting, and useful.

I think that if you can convince them that math is fun and exciting then that should be enough. Kids that age know that math is useful, that they need it for a number of reasons. What they don't know is that people do math and programming for fun.

Also mention video games. There is a tremendous amount of math going on behind the scenes in Halo that most kids don't know about. And Halo is fun and exciting, right?

Rebecca said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

Anonymous 1, I will check out that link.

Sally, yes, there is a lot of math, particularly in sports like baseball which rely heavily upon statistics.

Anonymous 2, thanks for the compliments! I really enjoy writing this blog and it makes me happy to hear that people other than my family members not only read it, but enjoy reading it. I like your ideas of the categories.

Drew, I would love to be in your audience. That sounds like a fun topic.

Keep the comments coming, folks! :)

Tatanus said...

Here are a few math related careers that sound interesting to me:

1) Professional computer hacker (my personal favorite)
2) Technical expert for T.V. shows like "Numbers"
3) High school math teacher :-)
4) Computer, Playstation, XBox, etc... game designer
5) Building architect
6) Sports Bookie
7) Crypto Analyst
8) Professional gambling cheater (Card Counting)

Anonymous said...

Another thing is video games. I play a lot and always have...you can tie them into math too. Such as spatial stuff, 3D images, math in animation, etc.

EcoGeoFemme said...

My biggest regret from undergrad is not taking more math. Math provides a way of concisely summarizing and understanding the world.

Also, I wish someone could have gotten through to me that once you learn the concept, you can use it to do all sorts of things. And that you only really need to know the things you use (but that you need a broad platfrom of skills to work from).

Jennifer said...

Do something hands on. If you want to show how math is used in different fields, find a simple easy recipe to show math in a kitchen or do an experiment with creating a simple computer game together. The most important thing is to have them be involved; they will remember it much more and be more likely to see the fun. Don't lecture them, they get enough of that all day every day.

Anonymous said...

I'd skip the fractions and maybe even algebra. When I talked to 7th graders I steered clear of anything they learn in school. Maybe start with some real world situations. For example, a social network formed from their MySpace links. Then you can get into some heavy duty graph theory.

rachel said...

In Scott's physics 101 class, he sometimes uses bio science examples, like the frequency of elephant mating calls and how to estimate a giraffe's blood pressure. So I think there's lots of room for math in biology. And sports, dear god, the math they're able to do with baseball is unreal. Look up "Sabermetrics" sometime, and even you will be scared.

The job I had that used the most math, absurdly, was working at the used book store, when I had to buy books. I would add them all up in my head to get a total, then figure out what 20% more would be, in case they wanted it in store credit instead of cash. Also, at the deli, I used to be able to estimate how much meat I had sliced, and had to know decimals to be able to read the scale. Ok, that's lame, but you'd be amazed how many employees didn't know .5 was half a pound, right off the bat.

Oh, here you go: if any of them are ever planning to move to Canada, they're going to need a working understanding of the metric system. :) Also lame, but when you're used to buying a certain amount of cheese to get you through the week, it's weird to suddenly have to think of it in grams.

lost clown said...

I like Anon 2's stuff. I was going to suggest something along those lines. Don't really get into the *how* of mathematical jobs, but get into the *why*.

You know, talk about working for NASA or building bridges and the like. Talk about art modeling and the like.

Talk about all the fun careers you can do with math, because really, this is what's going to get them excited about the math (except some of us, but seriously that was all that would excite me about math at that age).

lost clown said...

Oh and I'm proudly wearing the TN shirt right now!

Go Volunteers! ;)

Doctor Pion said...

Take a look at this press release about a study of perceptions of math people in the UK.

Your number one job is to make it clear to them that "I am a mathematician". Start there and end there, and maybe bring some visually interesting example of what you work on as you apply math to the real world. You are a "real scientist", something they have never seen before in their lives. Model it well.

I second what Anonymous 2 (4:33 pm) wrote about careers, and will add Business Major, Pharmacist, or Doctor to the list. Not because they are mathematical careers (although finance includes some serious math), but because taking the easy path out of HS math is often the death knell for students seeking those careers. I see multiple examples every year as an adviser. You can't be a biology major or business major without some fairly serious college level maths. I think I'll blog a touch about it myself.

BTW, fractions are the single hardest subject for kids, if the placement scores in college are any indication. Don't touch fractions, even with a ten foot pole.

Doctor Pion said...

As stated above, I did write a fairly long blog with thoughts drawn from my experience with those sorts of events.