In Data Analysis: As Real World As It Gets, we feature resources for teaching about data and statistics as supported by the NCTM Standards (NCTM, 2000). Data collection and analysis can be an avenue into the meaningful mathematics and problem-solving skills needed by students in the twenty-first century. And an answer to the student question, Why do we have to study math? can be found when teaching mathematics with a real-world statistics approach.
Educator Sheila Tobias, author of Overcoming Math Anxiety, states, "The teaching of math and science suffers from being all scales and not enough music. The emphasis on skills, facts memorization, and mastery very often kills curiosity and interest, even though it is necessary. Better to vary problem solving with discussion about applications that show the power of mathematics and science to provide analysis of complex situations" (Delisio, 2002).
Lovers of mathematics can immediately appreciate Tobias's emphasis on the importance of student interest and curiosity and the value of mathematics when analyzing the complex situations found in daily life. The Teacher Background section features online resources to strengthen teacher content knowledge, as well as an inspirational story about a mathematics lesson taught in context. To begin, we suggest looking to your community for local issues to investigate; see the "Principles" resource in Teacher Background for a stunning example of using mathematics to examine a local question.
The Lessons and Interdisciplinary Projects were selected to promote student interest by focusing on real-world situations and developing skills for using the power of mathematics to form important conclusions relevant to life. Challenge students to do original research with the spirit of adventure—where no one knows what will be discovered. Significantly, when using a problem-solving approach with data analysis, students develop an understanding of the team process and teachers avoid teaching skills out of context. Students learn that working with data offers insights into society's problems and issues. As we seek to develop the passion of scientific inquiry, the teacher may need outside expertise to understand the real-world topic—don't be afraid to ask!
If tempted to embark on an interdisciplinary teaching adventure, be assured that there are many pluses beyond having the benefit of shared teacher expertise on the issue under investigation. When teaching as part of an interdisciplinary team, blocks of time can be assembled for an in-depth investigation, and there are opportunities for professional mutual support in carrying out what may seem like an overwhelming project. In particular, a math/science duo would work well for many of the resources mentioned.
Finally, giving students a context for the mathematics skills they are learning increases their chances of successful engagement and learning. Teaching with a contextual mathematics focus offers additional opportunities for students to apply their reading, writing, and analytical skills to issues or problems they care about in their community or even in the larger world.