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Expert insights: Math in modern times

Stock PhotoJobs numbers recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest a continued state of economic recovery, with unemployment falling to 5.6% in December.

Data show job gains in professional and business services, construction, food services and drinking places, health care and manufacturing.

Last year marked the best year for job growth since the late 90s, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez said during an event. We've had 57 months of consecutive job growth, he noted.

Perez helped kicked off a panel discussion about the workforce pipeline and the relevance of math in modern times. He was optimistic about the nation's economic future, but called the skills gap a top challenge for businesses and industry.

Here are some of the panelists' recommendations for bridging the skills gap and making math relevant in today's classrooms.

Create pathways for all. Perez called for a four-pronged approach: partnership, practical experience, pipeline and possibilities. "If we're going to build pathways to opportunity for everyone, we've got to implode stovepipes," he said. "We've got to move beyond that paradigm of the higher ed folks talking to each other, the K-12 talking to each other, and seldom between meeting. Portia Wu, assistant secretary of Employment and Training Administration for the U.S. Department of Labor, agreed. Partnerships are important so students can see how things are being applied in the real world, so students can give it a chance and find out how math is relevant, she said.

Keep it real. How math is presented changes everything, actress and author Danica McKellar said. How do we make math real? Show students how they can use it. For example, if you're teaching about exponents, you might ask students: if you send an online video to five of your friends and then they send it to five friends, how long until you get one million shares? Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina, called for a blend of rich digital resources with passionate educators. "We are in a place where we have opportunities for methodologies that can change the game dramatically," he said.

Encourage stick–to–itiveness. Even if students are not going to major in science, technology, engineering and math, they need to know that the analytical skills are skills you need for life, said Michele Weslander-Quaid, chief innovation evangelist for Google. Educators need to help give them the life skills -- the tenacity -- the growth mind set to solve difficult problems, she said. "Test scores tell you one thing, but the tenacity you build through solving hard problems gives you the courage and confidence to do what you want in life."

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