A new study finds that there is no need for students to find math relevant to succeed in it. I having been teaching math for over 30 years and couldn't agree more highly with the finding that there is no need for math to be relevant to a student's life . There is no need to create such complex word problems, using ethnic names, that the purpose of the problem is lost in translation. Kids have to understand that everything they learn in school is learning for knowledge sake. Most of the things we learn in school have no relevance in our lives. I never enjoyed reading Shakespeare, found nothing important in what he wrote, but my education would have sorely been lacking had I not been exposed to his writings. Besides, how would anyone know what courses of study they should persue if they are not exposed to everything out there?
The new trend in education is to let the kids sit in a "horse shoe". This way, they can supposedly speak to each other easier, communicate better, be happier. I am willing to bet this is not being done in many of the countries whose math grades surpass ours.
While there is no need to relate math to students lives, there should be joy in learning mathematics. Teachers need to present material in an interesting fashion. They need to make the material as fascinating as possible, to make the students want to learn it and to make them believe they can succeed. Too many of our students today suffer from math phobias and fail because they believe they cannot pass. The joy of learning should be the feelings of success when a difficult topic, such as factoring is finally mastered. I have actually seen math phobic kids light up with joy when they finally understand what they have been taught.