Thoughts from a reflective educator.
"The curricular activities are designed to make students feel like failures." Clayton Christensen
When Christensen talks about designing things as an interesting activity for students, I think it's pretty clear that this is a real world application of mathematics. This problem he talks about, where students have to first learn a bunch of mathematics before doing anything really interesting or powerful with it, is not just confined to the United States. It's a problem here in Canada too. I'm sure it's a problem all over the world.
We can design curriculum so that students get to work on really interesting problems. In fact, it's been done.
(I recommend checking out a series of textbooks published by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. I've looked through the books, and while they won't replace a good teacher searching for resources, they are a terrific way to start with real problems and look at solving those problems using mathematics.)
David is a mathematics teacher and a learning specialist for technology at Stratford Hall in Vancouver, BC. He has been teaching since 2002, and has worked in Brooklyn, London, and Bangkok before moving back to Canada. He has his Masters degree in Educational Technology from UBC, and is the co-author of a mathematics textbook. He has been published in ISTE's Leading and Learning, Educational Technology Solutions, The Software Developers Journal, The Bangkok Post and Edutopia. He blogs with the Cooperative Catalyst, and is the Assessment group facilitator for Edutopia. He has also helped organize the first Edcamp in Canada, and TEDxKIDS@BC.