Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Math for Everyone

Joanne Jacobs has a discussion about how much math is enough for students. She suggests that frankly, most people don't need everything they're taught even through high school. I think she mostly correct.

When it comes to practical skills for the general populace, the skills list is something like addition/subtraction, division/multiplication, ratios/percentages, and exponents. Any sort of budgeting will require these skills. Any sort of financial planning will require percentages, ratios, and exponents to calculate interest. Anything geometrical will likely require trigonometry sooner or later. Understanding simple concepts like basic computer modeling requires basic algebra, probability, and statistics is very useful for figuring out what people are talking about on the evening news.

I have a Bachelors and a Masters in Mechanical Engineering. I know a fair amount of higher math. About the only thing I use on a regular basis are prob/stat, trig, and linear algebra. I haven't done calculus or differential equations in years. Why? Because in most fields the problem has either been solved and turned into a formula or it is unsolvable in closed form and will require some form of discrete simulation. For that matter a lot of "analysis" is simply reading tables for the proper part sizes.


AnonymousJones said...

I think you do more math than you realize. It's just that it's done in your head implicitly. Sure, you may not be "solving" calculus homework problems on a daily basis, but the basics of calc (linearization, discritization, etc) are executed so frequently that we hardly notice any more.

Trig and linear alg, on the other hand, are completely useless.

Jeff the Baptist said...

I agree, but most of the stuff I use calculus for is still pretty technical. And understanding the tangent to a curve or area under the curve is pretty easy compared to properly setting up the problem so you can solve it.

I use trig whenever I do almost any sort of geometry. About 90% of the back-of-the-envelope math I do involves trig.

AnonymousJones said...

I guess I just don't consider COH SAH ATO to be trig. When someone says trig, I'm thinking butterflies, sinh, and cosh.

John said...

I'm wouldn't mind have a good command of statistics. It could help me on my job when doing cumulative reports.