Math for Non-Math Students

I hesitated to write this here, for my students might read it. But I shouldn’t. It is their learning I am talking about. It should matter to me and to them.

Teaching for non-math students like students of economy has several obvious hazards.

  • The math background of these students and their interest in the subject is usually very small. Blame the math education in the schools, the overall reservation against math or the shortening of school education by one year here in Germany. The fact of too little knowledge and skill is a fact we have to deal with.
  • The time to teach and learn is very short, and the variety of subjects to be taught is very large. The lectures jump from topic to topic with little chance for the listening student to reflect on something or practice. Add to this the high workload during the first semester we see today, and you can no longer hope for a deep understanding or awakening interest.

Students often claim the lack of applications in math lessons. But this is not the reason of their problems. Admittedly, one or two applications every now and then may help to motivate. But in the end it is the math they struggle with. Adding the problem of translation between math and the subject adds a level of complication. Unfortunately, this rules out the treatment of real life problems.

The optimal way to go along would be to present problems, have the students think about possible solutions or mathematical formulations, and then to proceed to explain the math necessary to solve the problems. But the structure of the modern university as well as the lack of time inhibit such a time consuming way of teaching. So we are left with exercises the students have to solve at home. Due to their workload, students will accept exercises only if they can be solved by the scripted methods. And they will assume that exercises prepare for tests. That describes my teaching to non-math students. It is entirely different from the way I teach math students.

I invite you to comment on this. If you have ideas, propose them here. I would love to hear alternatives.

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