"Divided on Connected Math" [front page, Oct. 17] illustrates the misunderstanding about what math curriculum should be and how it should be taught. The article suggests that learning basic math skills and learning their application to real problems are competing strategies. As a middle school math teacher, I see them as complementary strategies.
All math curriculum should be based on standards that are themselves linked to real-life things we want students to be able to do. Like apprentices who must be taught the basics of their trade, students must be taught basic math skills so that they can move on to do real things with those skills. Math is not an end in itself but training that allows students to solve problems. We would be better off if we renamed all K through 12 math courses "Problem Solving With Numbers and Logic" because that is really what they are.
Those who want only the basics taught are denying students the ultimate goal of math, which is to solve real problems. Those who want students to work only on "real" problems take the risk that students will not learn the basics that enable them to learn the higher skills. Real or word problems are difficult for students because they require a combination of skills (including reading and comprehension), but they represent a higher level of learning and should be used at all levels. Teachers must blend both into their teaching.