Monday, March 2, 2009

What Do We Need Algebra For?

A story on NPR that I heard because I listen to NPR's most emailed stories. I think that this does not justify algebra to an M.A. in Mathematics for Teachers program, but it does talk about how calculators and computers have turned our need for an ability to do arithmetic to an ability to be "managers of numbers." I'm not wholly convinced that this argument gets to the heart of many of the places that algebra is used, but I found it interesting nonetheless.

Weekend Edition Saturday, February 28, 2009 · The mobile phone industry stuck a nerve among teachers this month. An industry trade group argued that cell phones should be allowed in the classroom, saying they can be used as a teaching tool to help children with their math skills — in particular, algebra.

Well, we're going to avoid that debate this week. But it did make us reflect: what exactly is algebra, and why do so many people find it hard to learn?

NPR's Scott Simon turns to Weekend Edition Math Guy Keith Devlin of Stanford University for help.

Here is the NY Times article about how the mobile phone industry is suggesting that cell phones are a good classroom tool to do algebra.


  1. FYI, I am well aware that the Algebra for Teachers class is taking their exam just as I post this and are going to take cold comfort with this story.

  2. So, the mobile phone industry tells us that cell phones are good for the classroom. Kind of reminds me of when the company that makes headsets/headphones told us that the radiation from a cellphone is enough to pop pop-corn (which is false), so we should all buy headsets! Yeah, right.

  3. I found an interesting use for cell phones in the classroom. This one really surprised me. On my way home I heard this story from NPR.