The difficulties with engaging children in math learning grows each year. I have several articles coming up next week that discuss that issue (links won’t work until publication date):
What is ‘Technical Math’–December 10, 2021 (this article)
Returning to Rigorous Mathematics–December 16, 2021
Math Scores Drop Again–December 17, 2021
An excellent solution is to change the focus, teach kids what will be required. One of our Ask a Tech Teacher partners has a good article on that topic:
What Is Technical Math?
There’s an old joke about how kids are forced to learn algebra and trigonometry in school, but have no use for those subjects in real life. But in reality, that depends heavily on what kind of profession you choose to go into. A lot of professions you might think wouldn’t call for much math actually require it as a core skill set for certain trades, including plumbers, electricians, welders, and construction workers.
Why do trades like this require so much mathematics? These are supposed to be the jobs you don’t need extensive education for, right? Well, as it turns out, they’re not.
In fact, many technical trades require more math than some white-collar professions. Let’s look at welding, for example. To excel in their profession, a welder needs to understand and calculate concepts like material usage, which requires using fractions and sometimes algebra. They’ll also need to know how to use charts and graphs for some processes.
The same is true of construction workers, who must deal with equations, conversion of quantities, and taking measurements. In a typical workday, a construction worker may have to use equations to convert between units of measure, or use ratios to figure out the proportion of a roof’s length to its height. Getting some calculations wrong in construction work can have dangerous, if not deadly, consequences. In more advanced construction work (i.e. the jobs that pay well), they’ll even have to know some geometry.
The skills required for these sorts of jobs comes from a particular field, called “trade math” or “technical math.”
What Is Technical Mathematics?
Technical math is a form of applied math — in fact, it’s simply known as applied math in several countries outside the United States. Technical math is meant specifically for tradesmen who need to know things like peak current flow in an alternating current network, or applying partial fractions, or any number of other practical applications. Technical math is generally only taught at a technical school or college after high school.
Technical math is different from pure mathematics, which is what we often think of when we think of “math” at all. Pure mathematics is the realm of abstract concepts, theorems, and mathematics that aren’t necessarily applied to any concrete, real-world objects. That might lead one to think of pure mathematics as math for its own sake, but it has just as many practical applications as technical math. The difference is, pure math is the kind of education you get from a college mathematics course to go into careers such as actuary, statistical analysis, math teacher, or data scientist.
What Does an Education in Technical Math Look Like?
So what kind of subjects would you learn in a technical math course?
As you might expect, that depends on the profession. But a student studying in trade school would likely start by mastering the basics of measurement, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistical methods, graphs and finance. These skills will aid in problem-solving common problems in applied mathematics, such as converting measurements, calculating costs, finding probabilities, interpreting statistical graphs, and more.
You will also learn about things like linear equations, quadratics, and volumes and surface area of solids. You can also expect to master the scientific calculator.
Even if you should choose to work in something a little less hands-on later in your career, you are likely to find your math skills come in handy. For example, a construction worker moving on to management would still use math when it comes to estimating, budgeting, accounting, and things like dimension-scaling. This is vital to common construction tasks like knowing how to allocate resources for a project without allocating too much or too little, or working out the estimated budget for a project.
Is Your Child Suited to Technical Math?
Knowing that technical math is far from an abstract idea removed from everyday use, this might lead to the question: is your child or student suited to technical math? Is this a skill you should encourage them to develop?
From a young age, many children display certain aptitudes and natural skills. Some are artistic, some are inclined toward music, and some seem to have a knack for technology or building things (like advanced LEGO constructions, for example).
The best way to determine if your child might be suited to technical math is to observe them carefully. Do they like taking things apart to see how they work? Are they interested in helping with fixing things around the house? Are they fascinated with tools? Any of these might be a sign they have an aptitude toward a technical career.
If you’re hoping to help your child develop these skills, there are ways to help put them on a possible path toward a career in the trades. There are math programs for children as young as kindergarten ages to help strengthen basic math skills.
If you’re struggling with math success in your classroom, here are some more resources offered by Ask a Tech Teacher:
Online Math Resources (long list)
#teachmath @komodomath #legomath
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.
2 thoughts on “What is ‘Technical Math’?”
I’m a retired remedial everything teacher, but my most recent experiences with technical maths are from a mother’s point of view. My son acquired reading and writing and therefore math late in his schooling, finally able to read a novel at 17. Despite his dyslexia he did well in his final exams and went into construction, now glass walling tall buildings. In his opinion, he learnt all the math he needs doing practical tasks and rarely uses a calculator. He has a phenomenal memory, not of written down numerals and signs, but of how this will fit if it is this long etc. Now in his 30s, he’s a ganger (Australian term for person who organises the workers, one below foreman) and is the site Safety Officer. In his opinion, 60% of all the construction workers he has met are dyslexic. I doubt that that will be different in the US.
What I mean to say with that example … 1) the word ‘math’ has many bad connotations for kids. Get rid of it in primary and early high school education. 2) In every subject, theme, topic there are calculations to be made. Teach calculating as a practical skill relating it to whatever subject on the timetable. Naturally introduce necessary useful formula, but explain why they work. In my experience as a remedial teacher, math games don’t work as well as for example math used during cooking, gardening, farming, driving a car, driving a cart, keeping a cat, dog, gold fish, leaving in time to catch the school bus.
I enjoyed your example. I agree with you, every bit. I like kids to have choices after HS without feeling they’ve failed if they don’t go to college. They haven’t and teaching technical math would reinforce those as legitimate choices for post HS careers. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
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