Archive for the ‘Teaching Mathematics’ category

Shormann Math is for Everyone

August 6, 2015

A Great Question

We recently received a great question about our new Shormann Algebra 1 course:

Are your courses best for mathy children, or can average students also complete them?

While “mathy” really isn’t a word, anyone with any teaching experience knows what this parent was talking about. Some students just “get” math quicker than others. They’re able to go farther and faster in math than most children their age. So, is Shormann Math mainly for these students, or is it more for students who are gifted in other, “non-mathy” areas?

An Illustration

The best answer is that Shormann Math is for everyone! To help me explain how, first take a look at this photo I shot a few months ago of a Hawaiian green sea turtle. The photo appears at the top of Shormann Algebra 2, Lesson 25. You’ll see what this has to do with answering the parent’s question shortly:

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Everyone loves sea turtles, right? I mean, do you know anyone who hates sea turtles? I don’t. There are some things in this photo that everyone can relate to, like beauty, design, color, and function, to name a few. There are also things that individuals gifted in certain areas would appreciate that others won’t. Photographers, for example, may be curious about what type of camera was used, resolution, lighting, etc. Everyone might notice how the magnified view of the eye is blurred, and composed of rows and columns of tiny squares. But only someone with a good knowledge of computers and/or digital photography could explain the “why” behind the tiny squares (called pixels).

Connecting Students to Their World and Their Creator

But what if your child is a future computer scientist, engineer, etc., and they just don’t know it yet? What if they, or you, haven’t already drawn the line between “mathy” and “non-mathy?” Well, Shormann Math is for you, too! Because everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28), everyone is designed to be creative like Him, too. But while God can just create by speaking (John 1:1-5), we humans need tools. And mathematics is like a giant treasure chest of tools, waiting to be discovered and put to use.

But the primary focus of Shormann Math is not about math. It’s about relationship. It’s about using math to help a child discover more about God’s Word and His creation, and build their relationship with Christ.

If you study the greatest mathematicians in history, like we do in Shormann Math, you find that all their new mathematical discoveries were connected to their study of Creation. While not all of them acknowledged God, a lot of them did, and in doing so it allowed them to see farther and discover more than any of their predecessors. The rich Christian heritage of modern mathematics is not something to hide in the back of a dark closet, but, like a favorite painting, it should be placed in the right frame, with the right lighting, and set in a prominent place.

In a nutshell, here’s what Shormann Math is about:

Shormann Math is designed to connect students to their world and their Creator by using an incremental approach with continual review to teach 10 major math concepts from a Christian foundation.

But Does it Work?

But does this “incremental approach with continual review” work? Well, the results of our Shormann Algebra 1 beta-test say “yes!” Pioneered by the late John Saxon (1923-1996), his “incremental approach with continual review”  has achieved astounding results. The results of Saxon Math in a traditionally low-performing Dallas public school were highlighted in this 1990 interview on 60 Minutes.

If the 60 Minutes interview doesn’t convince you of the merits of John Saxon’s approach, then maybe this historic quote by President Ronald Reagan will:

I’m sure you’ve probably heard about that new math textbook. It’s by a fellow named John Saxon, that has average I.Q. students scoring above high I.Q. students and has Algebra I students who use this textbook doing better on tests than Algebra II students who use the traditional text…

(Remarks at a White House Reception for the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, July 29, 1983)

Even a former U.S. President saw the merits of a teaching method that could help the average student go farther in mathematics than they ever dreamed.

Scholars describe mathematics as “the language of science.” And what is a good way to learn a new language (or a sport, or an instrument)? Well, you learn some of the basics, practice for a while, and then learn some more. You use an “incremental approach with continual review!” And like a language, sport, or instrument, mathematics is not a passive, textbook-only activity. It’s an active, pencil and paper pursuit. The method is instrumental in making Shormann Math for everyone!

Click here if you want to learn more about Shormann Math, including pricing, sample lectures and homework, a detailed teacher’s guide, and more.

Shormann Algebra 1: Results Matter

July 31, 2015

Why do results matter?

Shormann Math builds on a solid foundation of time-tested teaching methods, including the incremental development + continual review format pioneered by John Saxon(1923-1996). And not just Saxon’s teaching methods, but his teaching thoughts as well, including his thought that

Results, not methodology, should be the basis of curriculum decisions.

One of the primary reasons John Saxon developed his math curriculum in the 1980s was because new ways of teaching math were not working. Math “educrats” at the time were promoting their untested “visions” of math teaching. But with 3 engineering degrees, John was a math user before he became a math teacher. Not only that, he was a test pilot. If anyone knew the extreme value and importance of testing a new product, it was John!

Results matter because they reveal whether or not a new product really works. And while statistics certainly don’t reveal everything about a new product, they can certainly reveal many things. Most math curricula don’t provide this level of detail on student performance. But with Shormann Math, each new course is beta-tested in a live, online setting first before releasing it to the general public. The following are statistics from the beta-test of Shormann Algebra 1. The results show that the majority of students made an A! The following statistics, plus other detailed information about the course, can also be found in our Shormann Algebra 1 teacher’s guide. To purchase Shormann Math, click here.

Overall Performance

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Discussion: The average student in our beta test made an A in the class! Because each new Shormann Math course is beta-tested in a live online class setting, Dr. Shormann gets to know the students on more than just a “numbers only” basis. And we all know that God doesn’t make clones, so the fact that not every student performed the same should not be a surprise. Natural talent definitely matters, but so do things like attitude and maturity.  Dr. Shormann spends time during the video lectures encouraging students to develop fruits like patience and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), as well as persevering with joy (James 1:2-3), and gratefulness (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Practice Sets

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Discussion: You’ve probably never seen statistics on student performance in a math class before, which is why it is important to discuss the data! The decreasing trend over time is exactly what we expected. Two big factors are responsible for the trend: 1) There’s more review of previously-learned concepts at the beginning, so it’s easier and 2) student effort tends to decrease the closer you get to the end of the year!

What we had hoped for was a Practice Set average above 85%, and that was achieved in all 4 quarters! 85% is a good cutoff for determining whether students are understanding, and retaining most of the concepts learned.

Note also the high first quarter average. Because Shormann Math is built on John Saxon’s method of integrating geometry and algebra, students using Saxon Math 8/7 or Saxon Algebra ½ will be most comfortable starting Shormann Math. However, not all beta-test students used Saxon previously, so the high first quarter average is a good indication that students who successfully completed any pre-algebra course should do just fine in Shormann Math.

Weekly Quizzes

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Discussion: Weekly Quizzes show a similar trend to the Practice Sets, challenging the students more as the year progressed. A score of 8 out of 10 or higher is a good indication of whether students understood the lessons covered that week. We are pleased that scores were well above this in all four quarters!

Quarterly Exams

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Discussion: Notice the Quarterly Exams do not follow the same trend as Practice Sets or Weekly Quizzes, with Quarter 1 having the lowest average. And this is where beta-testing a new product is so valuable. We realized that we were asking a lot for 9th-grade level students, most of which had never taken a cumulative exam like this. The solution? Practice exams! Just like when learning a sport, a musical instrument, etc., good practice results in good performance. The beta-test students clearly performed best on first quarter Practice Sets and Quizzes. Most likely, if they were given practice exams prior to their quarterly exam 1, this would have been their highest exam average. Now, all quarterly exams have two practice exams that students use to study for their actual exam.

85%+ is an indicator of good retention and understanding of concepts covered in a quarter. For all 4 quarters, student averages were at, or well above 85%. Because of Shormann Math’s format of continual review, we are basically asking students to be responsible for “all their math, all the time.” These results show that on average, students are responding very well!

How Shormann Math Teaches Proof

June 17, 2015
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Euclid’s Proposition 1 overlaying a pod of spinner dolphins swimming in a near-perfect equilateral triangle formation! The concept of proof applies to everything from building a rocket to the simple beauty of a pod of dolphins. Photo Credit clarklittlephotography.com

What is proof?

Proof is really nothing more than providing a reason for statements made or steps taken. In the standard American government school 3-year “layer cake” approach to high school math, the concept of proof is normally limited to some sections in the geometry layer. But proof is not a concept that is the exclusive domain of geometry. Shormann Math teaches proof in 3 main ways, by 1) studying Euclid’s foundational work on proof, 2) showing that proof is for all of math, not just a few weeks in geometry class, and 3) showing how proof applies in the real world.

Euclid and proof

Around 300 B.C., Euclid (330 – 275 B.C.) organized the previous 3 centuries of Greek mathematical work into a 13-volume thesis known today as The Elements or Euclid’s Elements. Scholars believe that only the Holy Bible has been more universally distributed, studied and translated. Starting with a foundation of 5 postulates, 5 axioms, and 23 definitions, Euclid proved 465 theorems, or propositions.While postulates are basically rules that are assumed to be true without proof, theorems are true statements requiring proof. Postulates are also referred to as self-evident truths.

Surprisingly, even though Euclid is considered the “Father of proof,” most American high school geometry textbooks mention little to nothing about Euclid. In Shormann Math though, students will learn who Euclid was, and the importance of his contribution to Western Civilization. Shormann Algebra 1 and 2 students will become very familiar with Euclid’s first 5 propositions, giving them a good understanding of proof technique. They will gain an appreciation for the deductive nature of geometry and geometric constructions, seeing how one proposition often requires the previous one. And they will also see the simple beauty and elegance of Euclid’s propositions.

Proof and mathematics

Perhaps one of the greatest flaws in the “layer cake” approach to high school math is that the concept of proof is almost always limited to a few weeks during the geometry year. In Shormann Math, we’ll do the standard triangle proofs and circle proofs, but we will also apply proof technique in other topics like algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

But how can proof be for more than just geometry? Well, proof is based on a type of reasoning called deductive reasoning (applying rules). Every single math concept begins with rules. And every single math problem can be solved by applying those rules. All of mathematics is deductive in nature, which means at any time, a student should be able to explain the rules (provide reasons for) they used to solve a problem.

Because Shormann Math is integrated, we’re able to help students make connections between the major concepts like algebra and geometry. This results in students getting a better feel for what mathematics is about, which will make it easier to learn. Instead of thinking that they are always learning something new and different, they will see how one lesson builds on previous ones, which makes it less intimidating.

Proof and the the real world

Sure, proof is important to mathematicians, but it’s also important in the real world. As we explain in Lesson 68 of Shormann Algebra 1,

“Supporting statements with reasons is a technique used by, and expected of, people that society refers to with words like professional, leader, wise, helpful, and trustworthy. People like Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, known for his study of Euclid’s Elements and his application of the idea of proof to solving societal problems.”

We also helps students see the application of proof technique in the real world, as this table from Shormann Algebra 2 explains:

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Most importantly, proof is profoundly important in sharing the Gospel with unbelievers. God wants us to be ready to give reasons for the hope of salvation (I Peter 3:15). Our reasons should primarily be Scriptures we have memorized, or at least remember where to find them.

Conclusion

As you can see, proof is about a lot more than geometry! Shormann Math gives students a basic understanding of proof technique and it’s application to the real world. It’s a great tool to help them in their thinking, planning, designing and serving. If you think you would like your child to learn math in a more natural way that connects them to their world and their Creator, click here to learn more!

The New Shormann Math vs. Saxon Math and Common Core

April 21, 2015

Summary: If mathematics is the language of science, then fluency should be the goal, which means the traditional “layer cake” approach to 3 years of high school math (Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2) is probably not the best approach. The shapers of Common Core’s math standards realized this, and now states that adopt their standards can choose between two high school “pathways”, either the layer cake or integrated approach, where students learn algebra and geometry together. John Saxon* actually pioneered the integrated approach in the United States back in the 1980’s, but his integrated approach was only one small part of his textbooks’ successes. His method of “incremental development with continual review,” combined with a constant encouragement for students to learn by doing, were the keys. Shormann Math builds on John Saxon’s efforts to really teach math like the language of science that it is, by not just connecting students to their world, but, more importantly, to their Creator. In doing so, students learn to wisely mingle concepts like science and Scripture, faith and reason. Doing so makes it easier to learn subjects like calculus, which really does require a faith commitment in order to make sense of it. Because of its obvious connections to God’s attributes, secular calculus courses steer clear of this, and in so doing make it much more difficult to learn. Shormann Math will change that.

*John Saxon passed away in 1996, and the company he founded, Saxon Publishers, is now owned by Houghton-Mifflin/Harcourt. They have since created some Saxon-in-name-only Algebra 1, 2, and Geometry textbooks. Click here to read our review of the new books and to learn why we don’t recommend them.

The 10 Major Topics of Shormann Math

The 10 major topics of Shormann Math, compared to John Saxon's books and Common Core standards.

The 10 major topics of Shormann Math, compared to John Saxon’s books and Common Core standards.

Measurement is a topic that is a natural part of any math course seeking to teach math as the language of science. That it’s missing from three years of Common Core high school math is a huge problem. As a science class and lab teaching assistant during graduate school, one of the biggest math-related struggles I remember was students’ inability to convert from one unit to another. And it’s not just Common Core, most government school standards are weak in teaching measurement-related topics.

All Shormann Math high school courses will keep students fresh with working with measurements. Computers are also a very real part of every students’ world, so knowing about some of the mathematics behind them should be a priority. And, as mentioned in the Summary above, calculus becomes a normal part of high school math when one of the priorities is to connect students to their Creator.

Foundations and Pedagogy

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As Euclid famously said centuries ago, there is no royal road to learning. However, some methods are definitely better than others, and the Common Core’s integrated pathway (click here to read an Education Week review) is definitely a step in the right direction. However, the integrated approach has it’s own challenges. To really teach math like the active, hands-on language of science that it is, you have to teach it like languages are taught, or sports, or instruments, etc. You teach students a little bit about something, give them time to practice it, and then build on it. John Saxon called this “incremental development with continual review,” which is missing from Common Core.

Also missing from Common Core is the importance of math history. Understanding why they are learning the different math topics makes math more relevant to students. Learning some things about the people behind the math concepts they are learning, as well as some of the great, and not-so-great things they did, makes math more meaningful. And the connection to history also shines a bright light on the rich Christian heritage of mathematics, especially regarding algebra and calculus. Showing students how God’s attributes are clearly revealed in mathematics can make a huge difference in their comprehension and success in the course.

Shormann Math’s emphasis on math history means that, in developing the course, I dove deep into the classic works of Euclid, Newton, Euler, etc. Rather than reinventing the wheel, this study of the classics allowed me to develop a curriculum that stands on the shoulders of giants (a phrase often attributed to Isaac Newton). It should be a huge confidence-booster to parent and student alike to know your course is built on time-tested and proven methods for learning math.

What 3 Years of Math Covers

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By focusing on what matters most, Shormann Math does more in 3 years than either Common Core or Saxon. In the first two years, Shormann Math covers all the concepts presented on the SAT (the new 2016 version), the ACT, and both the CLEP College Algebra and CLEP College Math exam. A full credit of geometry is integrated into the first two years as well. This is different from John Saxon-authored texts, which include the geometry credit in years 2 and 3 (Algebra 2 and the first 1/3 of Advanced Math). And before you think Shormann Math couldn’t possibly have enough geometry, consider that we will cover all the standards, like perimeter/area/volume, similarity and congruence, circle and triangle theorems, and proofs. In addition, we will show students how the proof technique is not some isolated subject you only learn in geometry class, which is what most students, and parents, think it is. We’ll introduce students to proofs by studying the master, Euclid, covering several of his propositions. We’ll do the standard triangle proofs and circle proofs, but will also apply proof technique in other topics like algebra. And students will learn how proof is used in the real world. They’ll even learn how geometry is used in art and architecture. And on top of all that, we’ll introduce non-Euclidean geometry in Algebra 2, diving deeper in Precalculus. We’ll also use CAD programs like Geometer’s Sketchpad to complete proofs and more.

Finally, Shormann Math will introduce calculus fundamentals. By year 3 (precalculus), Shormann Math students will be very comfortable finding limits, and will have a solid grasp of derivatives and integrals. We hope all students will continue on to Shormann Calculus, but if not, they will be more than ready for college-level calculus. Of all the courses in college, calculus is the subject that opens the door to virtually every college major, or if the student cannot pass the class, closes the door on about 80% of majors. The first three years of Shormann Math will give students the confidence they need to take college calculus, and be at a level to help their peers learn it, which can also open up opportunities to build relationships and share the gospel. And completing 4 years of Shormann Math will allow students to possibly prepare for and pass either the CLEP or AP Calculus exam, receiving college credit for their efforts.

But Saxon + DIVE Lectures do a lot of this already. Why make a new curriculum?

There are many reasons, here are a few:

  • We can build the curriculum on a Christian and historical foundation, rather than bringing these fundamentals in from the side, like we do with the DIVE Lectures that teach Saxon Math.
  • The one topic John Saxon didn’t integrate was calculus. We think it just might be the most important topic to integrate, and our current Shormann Math students are proving Algebra 1-level students can learn some calculus fundamentals!
  • We don’t know how long Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt will continue to sell John Saxon-authored textbooks.
  • We can take advantage of 21st Century technology and e-learning to provide more efficient and effective learning. Our self-paced e-learning format includes many powerful learning tools, including video lectures and video solutions to homework, all for about the same price as the Saxon home study kits. The following table lists some detailed differences between Shormann Math and Saxon Math.

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What is the prerequisite for Shormann Math Algebra 1?

Students who have successfully completed a standard pre-algebra course, including either Saxon 8/7 or Saxon Algebra Half, are ready for Shormann Math Algebra 1.

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Do you have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment!

Click here for a detailed description of Shormann Math, including sample video lectures and pricing information.

How to Be a Mature Math Student

January 29, 2015

At the beginning of W.M. Priestley’s book, Calculus: A Liberal Art, is a page titled For Anyone Afraid of Mathematics. Here’s the first paragraph:

Maturity, it has been said, involves knowing when and how to delay succumbing to an urge, in order by doing so to attain a deeper satisfaction. To be immature is to demand, like a baby, the immediate gratification of every impulse. 

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Gabriel Medina, 2014 winner of the Van’s Triple Crown of Surfing, maturely surfs a wave at the Banzai Pipeline. Maturity, whether in surfing, learning math, etc., involves knowing when and how to delay succumbing to an urge.

I am learning to surf, and every session reminds me how immature I am at this sport! I need instruction, and lots of it. I make bad choices on which waves I should try to catch and which ones I should let pass. More often than not, I do not know when and how to delay succumbing to that urge to ride a wave. But with repeated practice and instruction, I hope to gain a better sense of making mature wave selections.

In a similar way, an immature math student has many urges to overcome. One of the biggest is fear of failure, and when students feel that urge, they often respond immaturely by cheating, asking for help too soon, or just giving up. Do you want to be a mature math student? Here are some suggestions to help you achieve that goal.

  1. Failure is an option. In a math course, there is a reason that you are the student, and not the teacher! Students are the ones who need instruction. So when you are learning, humble yourself and be ready to make lots of mistakes.
  2. Learn from your mistakes. Homework is your time to practice new concepts and to expect some mistakes. When you grade your homework though, and you miss a problem, don’t just mark it wrong. Correct it. Review your lesson and your notes. Look for similar examples in the book. How were those examples solved? If your course has a solutions manual, study the solution carefully and work the problem again.
  3. Set a time limit. Some students give up too easily. Others don’t know when to give up. Both responses are immature. There is a difference between taking 10 minutes to solve a complex problem that you know how to do, and spending 10 minutes searching aimlessly for clues on how to solve a problem. If you can’t figure a problem out after 10 minutes or so, move on. Try it again later. Sometimes, after you’ve rested, you will find that you can figure a problem out.
  4.   Pray for maturity. Ask God to make you a humble, dedicated learner. Math is a tool for studying His creation, and He definitely wants you to use it to know Him better, so talk to Him, and ask Him to lead you. Some students will spend all their years of schooling blaming others for their poor math performance. They will blame the teacher, the textbook, their parents, everything but themselves. If that is you, well, most likely, the main problem is you. Ask God to show you how to have a grateful attitude for the gift of education. Ask Him to help you know when and how to maturely succumb to that urge to know the answer to a problem, and do your work in a way that gives Him glory!

Do you have any other suggestions on how to be a mature student? Feel free to leave a comment.

It Only Takes an Instant

December 1, 2014
Two images of a wave in Waimea Bay, Hawaii, taken 0.1 s apart, reveal how quickly things can change from beauty to chaos (or vice versa).

Two images of a wave in Waimea Bay, Hawaii, taken 0.1 s apart, reveal how quickly things can change from beauty to chaos (or vice versa). © 2014 David E. Shormann

I never cease to be amazed by the technology of today’s digital cameras. By pushing a few buttons, anyone crazy enough to bob around in a 6-8′ high shore break can capture some amazing beauty in God’s creation! But as the photos above reveal, the beauty only lasts for an instant.

It seems impossible that things can change from beauty to chaos, or vice-versa, in so short a time. But big changes can and do occur in even less time than the tenth of a second that elapsed between these two photos.

Strangely enough, instantaneous change, something us humans really can’t fully comprehend, is behind almost every major technological achievement of the past 300+ years!  How can that be? How can something we will never fully understand help us make all sorts of useful devices? Well, some things we just have to take on faith. Faith is at the heart of the branch of mathematics known as calculus. And calculus is all about the study of instantaneous change.

Subjects like calculus are easier to grasp when we consider the Author of every instant of time, and Creator of the biggest  and best instantaneous changes of all. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:52 how we will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), a devout Christian man considered the best mathematician ever, wrote that “it is God, therefore, who places men, every instant, in circumstances the most favourable, and from which, they may derive motives the most powerful, to produce their conversion; so that men are always indebted to God, for the means which promote their salvation.”

Euler understood God’s relationship with man and creation very well. He also understood mathematics really well, too! Much of the way we teach mathematics today comes from Euler’s textbooks on the subject.

In our new Shormann Mathematics curriculum, we believe that all 10 major topics covered, including and especially calculus, are best understood by connecting the study of mathematics to Jesus Christ, the founder of all knowledge, and the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Using Math to Unlock Mysteries, Reveal God’s Beauty, and Interact With Others

September 8, 2014

The following is the sixth in a series of posts covering Shormann Mathematics, Algebra 1, the newest product from DIVE Math and Science! Click here to read the complete document that covers Shormann Math core ideas, course description, and Algebra 1 table of contents.

Mathematics has so many uses, including modeling the beautiful arcing leap of a bottlenosed dolphin! Image ©2009 by David E. Shormann.

Mathematics has so many uses, including modeling the beautiful arcing leap of a bottlenosed dolphin! Image ©2009 by David E. Shormann.

Shormann Math teaches students that mathematics is the language of science, and therefore an important tool for unlocking mysteries and revealing the amazing beauty found in God’s creation. It is also an important tool for interacting with others, such as when buying and selling things. Shormann Math will train students to become skillful at using mathematics in a way that will help them become productive members of God’s world, using their talents to serve Him and serve others.

Shormann Math teaches students what mathematics is, and how to solve problems using mathematical concepts. Problem solving is simply the application of mathematical concepts in new situations. It is about building on foundations that have already been laid, using mathematical tools developed over the centuries and applying those in new situations to solve problems. This is the essence of deductive reasoning, which is simply about applying rules. Mathematics is primarily deductive in nature, while scientific investigations are inductive (about finding rules).

What follows is a partial list of areas that mathematics is used, and that you may see covered in a Shormann Math Practice Set. At least one problem in each Practice Set will be about one of these areas. If you don’t see an area you think we should cover, let us know. One thing is for certain, Shormann Math students will not be asking the “what am I ever gonna use this for” question regarding math!

Science: astronomy, chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry, computer science, oceanography, meteorology, medicine

Farming: animals, plants, aquaculture

Natural history: geology, volcanism, genealogy

Business: marketing, accounting, finance, business startup, productivity, employment

Engineering: mechanical, electrical, petroleum, aerospace, civil, industrial, robotics

Architecture

Art

Sports: baseball, football, basketball, soccer, fishing, tennis, NASCAR, track & field, volleyball

Music