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Volume 11, Number 3
May/June 1995

How School Mathematics Can Prepare Students For Work, Not Just for College


A carpenter's plan for a built-in kitchen shelf unit calls for 1" x 8" oak boards of four different lengths, ranging from 2'10" to 6'6". The local lumber yard sells oak boards in lengths of 6, 8, 10, 12, and 16 feet, but the shorter lengths are more costly per board foot. The carpenter must decide what combination of shelf lengths and purchased boards will be most economical.

A financial assistant in a major HMO must make projections about the effects of increasing co-payments while broadening the scope of coverage, all without changing premiums. Using a standard spreadsheet template that covers all the HMO group policies, he locates the cells where projection calculations are made. He must study these cells to understand how their formulas now work, then modify them to reflect the proposed changes, and finally run several test cases to be sure his changes do what was intended.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    S. Forman and L. Steen. "Mathematics for Work and Life." In I. Carl (ed.), Seventy-five Years of Progress: Prospects for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM, 1995.

    National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA, 1989.

    S. Raizen. Reforming Education for Work: A Cognitive Science Perspective. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education, 1989.

    W. Thurston. "Mathematical Education." Notices of the American Mathematical Society 37, no. 7 (September 1990): 844-850.