Why teach Simultaneous Equations?

Questions?photo © 2008 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)…a Critical Thinking exercise…

Tom Barrett asks the bigger question: “What is the purpose of education?” My limited scope is an attempt to distill many ideas, often incongruent, in a hopefully comprehensible post; I could fail in this attempt.

A bit of Context (optional background info)

I am not an expert on Philosophy or Psychology and often struggle to understand the technicalities. However, wrestling with ideas does not preclude appreciation of nuggets.  These are some I’d like to use as a context for this post.

I like the ideas behind Glasser’s Choice Theory wherein actions (or in-action) are products of choice/decision-making to suit our basic needs: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power and fun.

I also like the ideas of David Seedhouse in his book Ethics: The Heart of Health Care. I have only read Chapter 2 as a necessary background for the Values Exchange Program (also by Seedhouse) I’m involved in. Seedhouse posits that ethics provides a theoretical framework for practical decision-making in professions that affect lives of other people (health care certainly, but easily applicable to teaching). Seedhouse makes a distinction between everyday – what we “use” regularly, sometimes without conscious thought and with inconsistencies – and technical ethics – ethical theories, including utilitarianism, designed by moral philosophers to provide a foundation avoiding the “vagaries of everyday ethics”.  I find most intriguing this idea of deliberative ethics, considering the best ways to achieve the potential of oneself and others.

I have also previously posted on the usefulness of Philosophy in teaching and learning, in particular creative and critical thinking.

Teaching as a practice of deliberative ethics

I follow many educators on Twitter and blogosphere.  The admire the passion voiced by these people who choose to learn, educate, facilitate learning, prepare students to become positive contributors to society, etc. (you get the drift).

With the framework of everyday ethics, contradictions eventually arise as my recent Twitter conversation with Matthew Campbell and Josh Stumpenhorst. I am definitely inclined to think of technology as a tool (a means to an end) just as these guys do. Yet, I argued in this conversation that for some, technology is an end in itself stating as a really good example (I think) Jack Dorsey the co-founder of Twitter – for him, technology is an end to pursue…ok, so it can be used as a tool (re: Gary Stager’s blog post). Notwithstanding my debate with Matthew and Josh, this is a very good illustration of how I contradict myself using everyday ethics as a framework. If I keep using this framework, I’ll drive myself up the wall asking questions like I do.


With the framework of deliberative ethics, however, educators unite in the desire to draw out the potential of learners in our care as well as of ourselves. (I am not going into drawing out “the best” as I have issues with that – subject of another post).  Our own unique deliberative processes – subject to our values (what we hold dear) – inform not just what we teach but how we teach it.

Many issues plague education making educational reform a hot topic, not just in #edchat. Not the least of these are the currency and relevance of the required curricula and focus on standardized testing.  The latter are constraints educators are ever mindful of. To look at it from an everyday ethics perspective is naturally divisive since every sector of society has a different set of values, some contradicting (e.g. every individual is important but not at the risk of maintaining a “good” society).  The point is not to stop the debate but rather to highlight that when we raise our views, we do so in awareness of our deliberative processes AND respect those of others.  Just because we disagree with others does not make their point any less valid than our own.

Why teach simultaneous equations?

Solving Simultaneous equations is part of the required syllabus and included in standardized testing. I can choose otherwise but in fact, I do choose to teach it because I am accountable to teach it – it is the “right” thing to do, as I don’t want my students to miss out.  I have to teach it because one day it could be useful like if some of them end up as engineers.

In short, I teach it because I choose to. BUT, I’ll keep asking why or why not or why else.  Questioning is part of my deliberative process and perhaps one day, it’ll lead to a different answer….or perhaps to no answer at all. I believe @lasic calls that doing philosophy.


Many links have been provided above but many more are absent. Discussions with fellow educators like Bianca Hewes, Mitch Squires, Nathan Hutchings, Tim Milkins, and many more helped me get confused and sometimes understand. Join us in our musings on #42c.

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5 thoughts on “Why teach Simultaneous Equations?

  1. mrsjwilson says:

    I wasn’t sure what a simultaneous equation was for sure, so I looked it up, and it is what I thought. (We call in them systems of equations in the US.) I think it’s really interesting the process you went through to justify teaching the equations.

    Another interesting thing – I use a systems of equations periodically to figure out the optimal arrangement of group numbers in my room based on number of tables, numbers per group, and total number of students. So there is no telling how useful students will find them in the future!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • malyn says:

      Hi Janelle,

      It’s always a pleasure to have you over and your point about terminology is a massive one for me. I’m big on literacy in maths, including learning the language involved. Sometimes, it’s a real stumbling block especially for the lower ability kids. The process involved was a recent discovery so I was keen to “try it out”. I like the framework – works for me, anyway.

      I’d love to hear more about your systems of equations for groups in your room. Can I suggest you blog about it please?


      • mrsjwilson says:

        Ooh – I guess that would be a good idea for a blog post. Thanks for the idea! It’s really just to help me figure out the best way to arrange my kids. Perhaps it’s a bit nerdy! Ah well, that describes me well. 🙂

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