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In real life, do we ever need the math Order of Operations?


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#1 klmama

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 12:09 AM

One of my dc informed me today that the Order of Operations is totally illogical and useless. Umm... I have to agree. Am I just showing my mathematical ignorance? While I enjoy solving the puzzle of the problems, I don't know of any uses for that order in real life outside of math class. Do you?

ETA: Okay, after googling, I see that I do use the order of operations some in my life without really thinking about it (adding up shopping expenses while deducting discounts, for example), but I never use exponents or square roots. At least, I don't think I do! ;)

Okay, new question: in real life, why would we need to use exponents and square roots in an order of operations problem?

Edited by klmama, 18 February 2009 - 12:35 AM.


#2 Dee in MI

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 06:44 AM

Here are some thoughts from a Berkely math professor. He's written a lot of articles on math education.

\Order of operations" and other oddities in school mathematics

#3 forty-two

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 07:45 AM

"Order of operations" is just a convention to simplify writing equations, so that we don't have to use as many parentheses to show the correct order to evaluate the expression or equation. 1*6+7*8^3+4*5 can be easier to read and write than (1*6)+[7*(8^3)]+(4*5). But the point is clarity, and if throwing in a few "unnecessary" parentheses - 1*6+7*(8^3)+4*5 - makes it easier to read, then that is the way to go. The whole "order of operations" problems in school math texts, where they take a convention meant to make things *easier* and instead use it to create a giant puzzle, is, as your dc said, "totally illogical and useless."

#4 Penny

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 07:47 AM

One of my dc informed me today that the Order of Operations is totally illogical and useless. Umm... I have to agree. Am I just showing my mathematical ignorance? While I enjoy solving the puzzle of the problems, I don't know of any uses for that order in real life outside of math class. Do you?

ETA: Okay, after googling, I see that I do use the order of operations some in my life without really thinking about it (adding up shopping expenses while deducting discounts, for example), but I never use exponents or square roots. At least, I don't think I do! ;)

Okay, new question: in real life, why would we need to use exponents and square roots in an order of operations problem?



Sometimes I find that it is difficult to look outside of myself. So, just because I as a stay at home mom do not use the order of operations doesn't mean my dc will not need to in their future. I have to be careful to teach my kids to excell outside my range of daily experiences, especially if I want them to do something other than be a stay at home mom (which is a high calling, yet not everyone's calling).

The entire purpose of higher level math is to support the sciences/engineering. If one of your children desires at some point in their life to delve into any of the sciences or engineering (which is applied science), math is essential, including the order of operations. I can testify that as an engineer, I needed such knowledge. (My previous life was as a CHE).

I face the same sort of questions when dc are studying the language arts. I don't know why we need to know what a predicate nominative is, but just because I don't use that in my every day life, I teach the kids because in their careers, that may be necessary.

Blessings and I hope this helps!

#5 G5052

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 07:56 AM

I've taught various computer literacy and web development classes for the last ten years at local community colleges, and I always teach it when I teach Microsoft Excel at any level because it's useful for troubleshooting formulas, especially if you use someone else's spreadsheet and they didn't use any ()'s. This is a required class for all majors, and Excel is widely in business and scientific analysis work. Our #1 major is nursing, and even there I know of students who have used Excel to prepare budgets and proposals at work.

#6 EKS

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 08:51 AM

It depends on whose "real life" you are living. When my life included working as a scientist then I used all kinds of math every day. Now that my life has changed, and I am a (homeschool) teacher, I do even *more* math every day! And I was a kid who hated math and always thought that it had nothing to do with "real life".

I know this doesn't answer your question, but my point is that as a child (or even as an adult) you never know what sort of life you're going to be living in the future. It's best to be prepared with the basics.

I always say to my children when they ask why they have to learn something that it is because "educated" people have to learn whatever it is.

#7 Dee in MI

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 10:56 AM

There are two issues here. First, should we teach things that we don't use in everyday life. Sure, absolutely. No argument from me.

Second, should the full "order of operations" (including working from left to right) be followed mindlessly? The full "convention" is excessive. Here is Wu's elegant order of operations:

Exponents first, then multiplications, then additions.

If a student understands multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction (and, of course, the punctuation of math, like parentheses and brackets), that's enough. If you make them do it from left to right, you could be unnecessarily complicating life. Consider the following example from a blog that I came across this morning:


Or my favorite old-school SAT problem (I remember looking over at another kid - back in the scratch paper days - who was doing a verrrrry long multiplication and wondering what I had missed. Turns out, nothing. He was doing it in the wrong order)
142802/145726 * 291452/71401 = ?


Also, consider this from an old seventh grade dolciani book:

3 + 289 + 197 + 11 + 46 + 8

The Doliciani book (written before calculators were ubiquitous) teaches you to mentally consider which terms you can combine out of order to make your life easier. In other words:

(3+197) + (289+11) + 46 + 8

Dee

#8 clwcain

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 12:16 PM

I work in corporate finance and I've done some work in economics. I've also worked as a graduate assistant in social sciences. Before that, I was in the entertainment industry as a scenery and lighting technician.

Yes. The order of operations is a daily, if invisible, component of my real life. I had the same attitude your child does at that age. I also had good teachers who compelled me to memorize these things whether they believed them necessary or not.

#9 AnnetteB

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Posted 18 February 2009 - 12:42 PM

Dh uses higher mathematics in his work...communications and phone systems. Low-voltage electricians have to compute resistance and more. It is all beyond me. The boys all say that they use their higher math skills in their work, too. The girls shudder. It must be a genetic thing with us?


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