Stupid Word Problems
Many of the hokey word problems published in the vast majority of mathematics textbooks are really sorry excuses for real practical applications. I apologize to any readers who might be contributors to the word problem sections on which I am commenting - but come on! How many of us are going to be tracking elephant migrations for a living, or calculating when airplanes traveling at different speeds from different cities are going to cross paths? Interesting questions, but such textbook word problems are just obscure oddities. They just do not reflect what real people do every day with math, and they do not encourage the student to want to learn more math. Instead, they think of math as some stupid obscure subject.
Real Mathematical Applications
I am here to talk about coordinate geometry. Students ask “What would anyone ever use this for?” It is unfortunate that the average educator cannot expound on the simple applications presented in this article. Have you ever driven past an interstate highway interchange construction site? Just how does such a complex set of interconnecting curves and lines and bridges all come together into one smooth and continuous system on which automobiles can safely travel at 70 mph? I suppose that a number of people never think about it. Many take it for granted. But that entire road system had to go through a conceptual process in someone’s brain, then transferred to a paper and computer plan, and finally transferred into reality with the aid optical and mechanical layout equipment controlling heavy equipment around massive but precise amounts of dirt, fabricating complex pieces of steel which all must fit together tightly like a jigsaw puzzle. What wonder of science makes this possible? Mathematics does!
Perhaps you have taken an Algebra course where you learned to graph and plot complex curves with names like hyperbola or parabola, spirals of various types, or just more simple shapes like triangles, rectangles or parallelograms. Perhaps you advanced to 3 dimensional graphing, where various geometric shapes are represented by mathematical functions. In the highway construction world, everything you see being built is defined on paper and in a computer by such mathematical functions. And construction engineering is only the tip of the iceberg. In a continuation of this blog, we will go over a simple street and curve design to show how the lines and functions which you l may have already learned to plot in coordinate geometry in your Algebra class.