Saturday, June 20, 2009

Core Set of Knowledge

I'm currently at an engineering teaching workshop (ooh, math teacher teaching engineering) with many other teachers from all sorts of disciplines - math, english, science, computer languages, ... and during lunch or breaks or in the course of our training I have had various conversations with many people.

During one conversation, I was talking to a middle-school math teacher who was mentioning that she was helping out her science-teaching friend with one piece of their homework that involved plotting points on the coordinate plane. The other teacher was having trouble with the negative y-axis. During another conversation, I was helping my table partner figure out how to put one dimension from the paper (a radius length) into the computer which demanded a diameter length. I thought she was having trouble reading where the paper number was located on the busy drawing, so I pointed out the radius number, and waited for her to convert it to the diameter length. She blankly stared at me. We finally got her to the point of doubling the length, but I was astounded that she didn't know this basic D=2R fact.

This got me to thinking of what I assumed was basic adult math knowledge regardless of your job. I got on my high horse and was scared of what I was seeing. Then I flipped it around and wondered what science teachers would assume I should know, or what english teachers assumed I should know, etc. Maybe I'm one of those people who cause others to inwardly raise their eyebrows and say, "you don't know THAT?!?!"

I went to dinner with another participant who's a biology teacher and asked her what she thought was an example of what I should know as core science facts. She thought a while and said: what are the functions of different body parts (liver, kidney, pancreas) ... as one of her questions. Eek, eyebrow raising.

Sooooo, hmmm, I assume some math adults should know/retain-from-schooling:
basic circle, square, rectangle facts
plotting points

... so I started that list and then thought: why should they know that (for what purpose)? why did I think they should know that (because I thought those were "easy" to remember and basic)? Maybe it's more of a case of "I'm surprised they don't remember those facts .... like I'd be surprised if they didn't remember how to add, subtract, etc.".


  1. Elissa Caffery7:38 AM

    I'm not sure how useful basic geometry knowledge necessarily is, although it's certainly easy to understand and remember. Even worse, to my mind, is the number if adults who don't understand basic fractions, percents, and rate calculations. Surely everyone needs to understand that stuff?

  2. It seems from your story that these folks needed to use that forgotten math to complete some kind of task. Surely that's a sign that it's useful.

    Interesting to think about what other content-area teachers would think adults should know. I'm going to start asking them.

  3. I would say that basic geometry knowlege is VERY important - especially if you are a homeowner!!! We are working on a patio cover for our back yard and without measurement skills, basic area knowledge, etc, it would be very tough.

    This is a great question though - I'm about to leave for an AVID workshop and I will ask the LA and History teachers what they think

  4. I think every teacher must know how to get percentages, among many other things of course.
    I have been helping to some of my colleges with this "basic" knowledge. Every time I do it I think, I do not say it, "you don't know THAT?!?!". These are the teachers that are always complaining for the lack of basic knowledge of our students but they do not consider percentages, fractions, ratios an basic geometry as "BASIC KNOWLEDGE".

  5. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I don't think, when we speak of ignorance, that "widespread" should equal "not a problem."

    The negative y-axis? A science teacher... Not ok.


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