Life lessons in mathematics classes

At the AMS graduate student blog, Luke Wolcott asks if one can take life lessons from a mathematics class.

In the past couple years I’ve taught probability, statistics, and game theory. I often find myself lamenting that I don’t necessarily handle uncertainty or strategizing about interactions with other people well in daily life, because I certainly understand the theory! But it’s easy to lose sight of the greater context in the struggle to “cover” the material that “needs” to be covered. And students, in my experience, seem to tune out when they realize something won’t be on the test.

But I agree with Wolcott that it’s part of the teacher’s job to teach life lessons. In the probability classes that I teach I hope I am teaching the lesson of perseverance and of being willing to try different approaches to a problem – that course has the strange property that there aren’t that many big theorems, and it’s not necessarily obvious which approach to a problem will work until you try it. And in both probability and statistics I want to show people that we are bad at intuitively reasoning about uncertainty. (Don’t believe me? Read the excellent book Thinking, Fast and Slow.)


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