My Thoughts on Teaching Everyday Math

This semester I had the pleasure of teaching a fairly new course at my college called, “Everyday Math.”  The class consists of several major units:

  • Management Sciences (Graph Theory)
  • The Science of Data (Statistics and Probability)
  • Voting and Social Choice
  • Fairness and Game Theory
  • The Digital Revolution (Cryptography)
  • Your Money and Resources (Interest)

At the beginning of the semester I was complaining about this class because it seemed like there was a lot of material to cover in so little time.  By the end of the semester, I actually had an extra day to spare, but that was partially because I had planned for a snow day that we never had this year.  It was quite a warm winter (maybe the next time I teach this class I can add a section on weather analysis).

Overall, I have to say that I really enjoyed teaching this class.  It is the only class that I have ever had where there has been only 1 person drop the entire semester.  I also had 3 additional people stop coming that did not withdrawal from the course.  There could be plenty of reasons for this phenomenon, but my suspicion is that it is due to the fact that this class did not have a cumulative final exam.

What would I change about this class?   I think I would change many of the same things that my students would choose to change.  First, we need a change of textbook.  I like the flow of the class, but there were a few oddball things thrown in here and there that were given without justification since the textbook was trying to keep the actual mathematics to a minimum.  I understand that the intent of the book was to make the reading less intimidating for non-mathematics majors, but sometimes justification is still necessary.  The good news is that the book is being changed for the fall.

Second, I would like to see more time devoted to Fairness and Game Theory, or else have the unit eliminated altogether.  I thought it was a very interesting unit, but because we did not cover it for a substantial amount of time compared to the other units, the students were more confused than they probably should have been.

The comment that I heard most often from my students is that this really is not a class that involves mathematics that you will do every day.  I have to agree with this statement given that the majority of the material in the course I had to teach myself as the semester went along since I had never been taught the material myself when I was in school.  But what I can say is that this class gave me, as well as many of my students, a new perspective on mathematics.

Is there really a good name for this class?  Is there really a name that could encompass the essence of what this class is about?  I honestly think that “Perspectives of Everyday Math” might do the trick.  I think that the whole idea of this class was to get a different perspective and understanding of the mathematics that is used in our everyday lives.  I know that I have a different understanding of the world around me than I did just a few months ago.  For example, I now know that I can use mathematics to figure out a random person’s driver’s license number in fewer than two minutes.