Great question, Lisa!

I think we are constantly fighting a battle with public perceptions about mathematics. When the word 'math' is mentioned, people think you are talking about arithmetic, formulas, and equation-solving. To me, 'math' is more about the reasoning skills and processing of information. This is something that we need to emphasize more throughout our course curricula. I like to separate the types of things we do as mathematicians into "Skills" and "Tools". I would argue that the Skills are where the real mathematics is happening!

Essential Skills:

- Problem-solving
- Reasoning
- Explaining that reasoning
- Transforming a problem into a format where we can apply mathematical tools (see below)
- Modeling (using equations and functions to represent real world relationships)
- The mindset that we can proceed even when we do not have all the answers (just give it a variable name to start)
- Collaborating with other when you don't have all the answers yourself
- Making predictions from sometimes limited information
- Restating the results back into the context of the original problem
- Effective communication of the results

Mathematical Tools:

- The number system and symbolic form of numbers
- Arithmetic to manipulate those numbers
- Equations and Formulas
- Equation solving techniques
- Functions (trigonometry and logarithms are great examples of useful tools, though often taught in more theoretical ways)
- ... and so much more; we find new tools when we have specific problems to solve!

Think about what you do with your typical Intro to Statistics course. A lot more time is spent on the "skills" list than on the "tools" list; Stats courses are usually great examples of the power we get from a nice blend of both.

As ambassadors of math to the "non-math" world, we do need to do more to sell the skills more than the tools. I would even argue that, as far as our brains are concerned, there is no such thing as "non-math skills." Everything we do as human beings depends on our thinking and reasoning skills. Our mental capacity to process information from the world around us is our primary evolutionary advantage.

George Alexander

Madison Area Technical College

Madison, WI

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George Alexander

Math Instructor

Madison Area TC

Madison WI

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Original Message:

Sent: 09-22-2021 07:58:50

From: Lisa Feinman

Subject: IMPACT in Action #4- Shining a light on essential/soft skills

How do you explain the value of non-math skills in a math course to skeptics?

How have you grown as a faculty member in supporting students with soft/essential skills?

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Lisa Feinman

Project ACCCESS Coordinator

CC of Baltimore County

Catonsville MD

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