Posting my comments to a blog post on The Huffington Post titled “Frustrated With Math? Try Angry Birds!“, by Tim Chartier, associate professor of mathematics, Davidson College. My viewpoint here may upset a few math cheerleaders. While that is not my intent, I do bristle when someone comments that “math is fun,” or “What can we do to make students see how fun math is?”, or similar sugary sweet statements. Call me the grinch that stole the fun from mathematics if you wish. I just do not believe it is universally fun, which I believe those statements imply. Math may be fun for some people all of the time, or all people some of the time, but math surely is not fun for all people all of the time. Just ask my eldest son.
For what its worth, I blurted out “math is not fun!” in my mathematics curriculum and instruction (C&I) class while in ed school in reaction to someone’s comment that it is fun, or we need to show students that it is fun, or something along those lines. My comment went over like a lead balloon, which lead to my writing about it to help clarify my point.
Lastly, I do believe that there are definitely opportunities to show students how math can be fun. I just believe the number of examples where math is fun is very limited if we expect a diverse set of students to find them fun in any way. This does not mean that I am against using Angry Birds (“AB”) or other games as hooks to draw in students’ attention, as long as there is no slight of hand or twisting of words in so doing. As I mention at the end of my comments below, I am very open to seeing how I might change my viewpoint.
I appreciate your sincere desire to use Angry Birds, or similar apps / games, to connect students with mathematics, Tim. However, I struggle with comments like yours, or other claims like “math is fun!”, which require use of a reality distortion device, aka “wishful thinking.” I believe most students see through statements that they are employing mathematical thinking when they play AB, even after seeing a teacher explain the similarity between the mathematics of quadratics and the trajectory of an angry bird. The same is true with playing baseball, football, soccer, or horseshoes as well as doing just about any other action in life.
As a teacher, maintaining the trust of my students is critical; I believe making assertions that one does math when playing anything aside from Sudoku, Blackjack, Boardwalk, or similar is misleading at best, and incorrect at worst; even in the cases I mentioned, one may play them without necessarily doing math.
Fortunately, there are many true, real-world applications of math that exist all around us, which includes how the software programmer determined how to show the flight of the angry bird, or draw other objects on the display screen, etc. Whether one actively ‘uses’ math every day is debatable though, unless you are redefining the word “use,” or its usage. As a mathematics teacher with an electrical engineering degree, I explain how mathematics is used by mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, etcetera in cell phones, smart phones, iPods, Wiis, etcetera, as well as how mathematics can model actions, or phenomena, within those devices. I dare not claim they are ‘using’ mathematics, or ‘doing’ mathematics, in those situations since I do not believe that is factually correct, albeit they might be using or doing something that may itself be modeled, described, created, programmed, or conceived using mathematics.
If you can help me see your viewpoint, I will be most appreciative. I do not want to be overly constrained by reality, or at least my perception of it. So, please set me straight, or curved, as the situation may warrant!