"Why Americans Stink at Math" . . (way OT)

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 241 - 260 of total 275 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 11, 2014 - 09:05pm PT
Can compund interest be computed via slide rule...?

maybe define "compund"? then we can talk about the computation... what part of the new curriculum has spelling in it?
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 11, 2014 - 11:25pm PT
In particular, employers outside (and, I suspect, even inside to a certain extent) academia find educational credentials meaningless. A high school or college diploma carries with it no reasonable expectation of any particular knowledge or skill.

Wow, John, that's quite an overstatement.

Frustrated employers started demanding some evidence that graduates demonstrate certain minimum skills and knowledge. Those same employers concluded that neither grades nor graduation gave the desired assurance. The standardized tests and curricula were a ham-handed attempt to convey the desired assurance.

I'm not at all sure efforts at reform were driven by employers, though they may have piled on after the fact. Indeed, if the point of education is to train the citizenry for employment, then why isn't education funded by the industries that benefit from the training? Why are we paying tax dollars to fund employee training programs?

I don't think employee training was ever supposed to be the point of public education.

I'm sure the educational world has been swept by reform movements from its inception. The first one I was aware of is probably Plato's Academy, which said on the entrance, "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here." It is worth thinking about this a bit, because Plato was not in the geometry business at all, and no doubt he had some students who said, "we never use geometry here, so why did I waste all that time learning it?" Three thousand years later we hear the same echo today from people who don't seem to realize how their education may have shaped their abilities.

The first reform I experienced was the Sputnik crisis, when the USSR put the first satellite into space. Life magazine ran an article purporting to compare the lives of typical students in the US and the USSR. The US students were cheering for football teams and preparing for proms, while the USSR students were staying up all night studying.

Government, not private, money flowed into what are now called the STEM fields, and presto, we landed first on the moon. The mathematics reform at the time was called New Math. Tom Lehrer wrote a funny song about it. It was part of an educational enterprise that created a generation of scientists who fueled American primacy in science and engineering for years, but it was deemed a failure and is still referred to as an example of bad educational reform. Many of the complaints were the same: the parents didn't understand it and some of the teachers didn't either, features which, if you think about it for moment, might just as well be signs of quality too.

I'm willing to wager many of the principles of the New Math can be found in the Core Curriculum Standards. The difference then and now is that having promulgated the ideas, the reformers trusted the teachers to implement them. The current system seems to begin with an implicit assumption of teacher incompetence and then tries to make those benighted souls support standards the system implicitly assumes they are too incompetent to implement. Is it really any great surprise that this is not working well?

I find it particularly interesting that many professions with demanding postgraduate educational requirments still administer tests outside of those administered in school. Lawyers must deal with bar exams, physicians with board certifications, etc. Why don't I hear law or medical faculty decrying the influence of those tests?

I'd guess there are several reasons. One is that the tests are administered once at the end of years of education, rather than the current moment-to-moment intrusions that distort the everyday fabric of the classroom. The content of those tests is made available to students to study, and it is the responsibility of the students to learn the material on the test. In particular, the material on the test may not be what was taught in those postgraduate courses, it being assumed that the courses provided the skills and knowledge that would enable the students to master new material of importance. This is particularly true of Bar exams, which are tailored to state law. The whole situation is about as far from the testing programs in elementary and secondary education as it is possible to get.

Another is that, at least for now, faculty in these demanding postgraduate fields are not held personally responsible for their student's performance on the exams (although this might change). The role of student effort and preparation in passing the exams is recognized as a primary ingredient in success, and no one thinks that the faculty is somehow responsible for forcing or motivating those efforts.

And another is, I think, that by and large the faculty are either in charge of designing the exam questions or at least have considerable trust in those who do.

I don't think any of these conditions apply in the case of elementary and secondary educational testing.


When teachers organize to promote better teaching, rather than to oppose burdensome or insulting requirements, we can hope for real progress. Until then, I'm not holding my breath for better American performance in math, or in education generally.

I think teachers have been organizing to promote better teaching for years. In mathematics, there is, for instance the NCTM, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and I'm pretty sure there are analogous very active groups in most of the major fields. I'm also pretty sure that the unions have invested many resources into improving teaching. I know this to be true in New York State and assume it to be the case elsewhere.

But I also think it fair to point out that the US system, in marked contrast to at least some of the Asian systems, makes it almost impossible for teachers to meet and collaborate and so advance their professional standards and abilities. US teachers are almost prisoners in their classrooms with little or no ability to interact on a professional basis with other teachers, and little if any useful mentoring. New teachers are basically thrown into the deep end to see if they sink or swim, in a system that devises ever more ways of sinking while providing inadequate support for swimming.
Degaine

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:10am PT
Binks wrote:
I took math up to Vector Calculus. I rarely even use algebra. I use recursion every now and then in programming. Why do we need to learn all this math anyway? If I need to use it, I look it up on the internet. College isn't even necessary these days. Skip the debt, learn what you need to know on the job or taking online classes. I'm way ahead of my friends who went all in for the phd. They are still living in grass huts and complaining about privilege.


Tone is difficult to express on the two-dimensional Internet, so I'll take your post as tongue-in-cheek.

In the event that you are actually serious, math contributes to developing your brain muscle (analytic skills), doesn't matter if you don't use specific calculus equations in your daily life.
Degaine

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:13am PT
rgold wrote:
only the medical world continues to use calculus in something like its original sense.

Indeed. In French "calcul" can mean "stone" as in "kidney stone/gall stone".

Also, thanks for the other in-depth posts - an interesting read and perspective.
healyje

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:34am PT
Sheesh, there's an app for that already - who needs to think?

Andrew Barnes

Ice climber
Albany, NY
Nov 12, 2014 - 03:15am PT
I think it was Yvon Chouinard who said something to the effect that he never had any use for algebra. I see other comments like this in this thread and hear them all the time. I don't say much to these people, because it's pointless - they don't like math, there is no point trying to convince them that they should like it. Needless to say, selling overpriced garments is not rocket science, and Patagonia is never going to resemble Google.

On the original subject of this thread, "why Americans Stink at Math" - it is not just an American problem. There are many other countries which do not do well in math. Economic wealth is not related to strength in math. You cannot buy mathematics, you have to earn it by hard work. The situation is similar to climbing. You can have all the newest, most expensive climbing gear, but this does not propel you up an El Cap route - you have to earn it with patience, blood, sweat and tears. There is no royal road to geometry.

In my opinion, most pedagogical problems in math stem from lack of knowledge and enthusiasm of teachers (at the high school and lower levels). If I had my way, teachers of math would be required to have PhDs and would be paid accordingly. I would drop a lot of the purely pedagogical training (education departments) because it is largely BS.

Doing math seriously is akin to climbing El Cap or climbing a difficult alpine route. There is no room for mediocrity here. On an alpine route, you will die if you are incompetent. The same thing happens in mathematics - the laws of logic are as immutable in mathematics as the law of gravity is in climbing. Quacks and posers are quickly weeded out in math, so they typically migrate to easier subjects. This is okay. Climbers make up a very small fraction of the overall population, so do mathematicians.
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 12, 2014 - 05:35am PT
In the event that you are actually serious, math contributes to developing your brain muscle (analytic skills), doesn't matter if you don't use specific calculus equations in your daily life.
Excellent comment. Question: "How am I going to use this?" Honest answer: "You're going to use it everyday because it's gonna make you smarter. Duh." I don't know why so many people don't get this.

Andrew, you make some great comments.

I can just hear John thinking to himself about his children that are teachers. . . that's such a cute career for kids, teaching. Maybe when they grow up they'll get a real career like law. Again, typical arrogance from a profession that takes people to the hoop every chance that they get.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 12, 2014 - 06:05am PT
One hears the "I never needed to use this" complaint at all levels of education right through grad school. And of course it is true in some cases, in other cases not, although I'd guess that it is very rare that someone "needs" (whatever that really means) anywhere near everything they learned in any field. But mostly the claim misunderstands the point of education, perhaps even highly vocational training, and tries to impose a strictly individual perspective on an enterprise that is obligated to look well past individual pathways.

Here's an imperfect analogy: I start a rock-climbing school. Naturally, I intend that my degree certifies that a student is competent in all climbing genres, so I teach them about everything. Now someone graduates, moves to NYC, and has a long climbing career consisting primarily of weekends in the Gunks, with trips to the Tetons, Wind Rivers, Tuolumne Meadows, Red Rocks, etc. Now it happens that during this long and productive career, the graduate never has to do any real offwidth climbing and certainly nothing technical requiring either refined technique or just the applications of more basic techniques to a very sustained pitch. And so they complain that the very substantial amount of time in my program devoted to offwidth was wasted, because they never had to use any of that stuff.

So how does my school respond to this criticism? Naturally, we say we could not peer into the future of any one of our students and figure out what types of climbs they were going to choose, that our program was intended to make its graduates competent to confront any and all of the difficulties they might encounter in a climbing life, and the fact that this or that individual never used some of the skills we taught is actually irrelevant. We prepared them. They sought us out precisely because we would prepare them. What they eventually did with that preparation is their business, but does not reflect on the appropriateness of what we did.

And let's say our graduate moves on to some other outdoor sport and never really does any climbing. Then of course they say the never needed any of what we taught, and point to people in their newly-chosen field who have done well without any climbing education. Why exactly are those observations relevant to what we do in our climbing school?

Now the analogy is imperfect, as I'm sure people will be quick to point out. I do think it works pretty well as the collegiate level, where people choose majors and degree programs. My hypothetical climbing students also choose to go to a climbing school. But in our primary and secondary system we require students to go to school and learn certain subjects, so in some sense we are now teaching climbing to everyone, whether they have any inclination to do it or not.

Surely this has drawbacks and benefits. Among the benefits, we get some climbers who would never have known about it or engaged in it otherwise. Among the drawbacks, we get people who hate everything about climbing and were forced to endure a lot of instruction they found distasteful and irrelevant.

Now to continue the analogy, we would have to stipulate that climbing is actually a basis for a wide spectrum of life pursuits, so that failing to teach young people to climb would close them out of many modern opportunities. This would be bad public policy and a bad approach to the development of the highest possible potential in our population, and most authorities, going back thousands of years, have understood that some dissatisfied customers are a price that has to be paid in the pursuit of an ultimately greater good. This does not make the dissatisfied customers feel any better, but it also doesn't mean that their afflicted cries should be taken as a call to stop preparing everyone equally for the future.

matlinb

Trad climber
Albuquerque
Nov 12, 2014 - 06:17am PT
I am an engineer in the semiconductor industry and I find that find my education useful to do my day to day job and to have the foundation to teach myself new concepts and ideas as my role has changed over the past 20 years in industry.





BBA

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 06:33am PT
I thought the Common Core was like the new math (sets in the 70's) in that it will make a huge amount of money for publishers of text books. I had one daughter who went through trad math and one through new math. The trad math gave a better result (I helped them on their homework when asked). Kids need to learn operations for which not much thinking applies. After that they get into math which is descriptions of reality, insofar as it is.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Nov 12, 2014 - 07:09am PT
The concept of calculus is extremely important to your way of thinking, and it opens the door to exapnding how you view the processes of the universe. It is more than just "math."

People in the USA stink at math because they sit in front of a TV or computer game 10 hours a day instead of studying.
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 12, 2014 - 07:33am PT
I thought the Common Core was like the new math (sets in the 70's) in that it will make a huge amount of money for publishers of text books. I had one daughter who went through trad math and one through new math. The trad math gave a better result (I helped them on their homework when asked).

Pearson Prentice-Hall has bought up nearly every small textbook company that exists in the last few years. Some of these small companies have excellent books, but can't compete with the Pearson giant. Pearson will profit enormously from the Common Core.

Pearson pours tons of money into technology for education, that is a joke. It is very superficial (this to support the Common Core that allegedly goes deeper), and when one attends an in-service with a Pearson rep to learn how to use the technology, the Pearson rep cannot even manipulate it in the way they advertise. Pearson also bought the rights to the GED recently, which is a different but equally disturbing issue.

The Common Core at the 6th grade level is befuddling. I work with my daughter (6th grade) who is good at math, and she is generally not too confused by the quirkiness of the Common Core standards. For kids that struggle in math, it is totally confusing trying to solve a problem 4 different ways.

Also, instead of providing a broad foundation in math, it is more like an Advanced Placement course approach, in that it is targeted to solve specific types of problems. The skills are supposed to be learned in the context for which they are needed for a specific problem. Younger math students need a broad, consistent foundation in order to access the advanced math classes taught at my high school. We are already seeing kids (en masse) that show up to 9th grade math class very confused and with poor skills. This is because of the Common Core.

WBraun

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 07:54am PT
Without math there would be NO mankind ......
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 12, 2014 - 08:14am PT
Without YOSAR, there would be no climbers.
Degaine

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 08:20am PT
Without climbers there would be no YOSAR.
WBraun

climber
Nov 12, 2014 - 08:42am PT
Since this is a "math" thread you will have to put all these so called "quotes" into a mathematical formula to show your mathematical intelligence.

Otherwise the thread becomes useless ......
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 12:57pm PT
Wow, John, that's quite an overstatement.


You're right, and I apologize. I made an error that I usually advise others against. I overstated an unnecessarily divisive position. I should simply have expressed my frustration when undergrads in my intoductory economics classes couldn't perform the most basic algebraic manipulations, or graduate students who allegedly passed multivariate calculus couldn't understand its need or application in calculating the least-squares estimators for parameters and statistics of fit for multiple regressions

It was in that sense that I stated that academic credentials proved meaningless. Of course they aren't. They still make their holders more likely to have knowledge and skills related to their fields of study than those without those credentials. I can see now how my exaggeration led to obfuscation of my point, so I'll try to re-state my position.

When the politicians demand standards and measurement, they express what a large segment of the voting public requests. I, too, didn't go to college, grad school, or even law school for a job. I went because of intellectual curiosity, but the public that's paying for education isn't satisfied when we say education forms its own reward. They expect -reasonably in my opinion - that graduates will be proficient in a certain minimum set of skills and subjects.

Wbw's quote about the need for a concerted effort to teach real mathematics rings true for me. I think the Common Core math standards form a part of determining what constitutes "real mathematics." Their propenents intended to set forth the minimum set of mathematical knowledge and skills in which students must demonstrate proficiency. I know enough about the people who put it together to believe that they did so for altruistic, not remunerative, reasons.

The reaction to Coomon Core, and particularly the arguments I hear from the rather unusual coalition of teachers and Tea Partiers, reminds me, too, of the gripes I heard about "new math" 51 years ago when I was a student learning it. I shudder to consider the boredom I would have faced if I had to continue learning the "old math."

I aimed (rather poorly, I see) my swipe at teacher organizing at the unions and others who don't want to be bothered teaching something new, claim that Common Core won't help, but fail to offer an alternative set of standards or method of measurement. I didn't mean to disparage the true professional organizations. Once again, my rhetoric overstated my intent. My bad.

John
wbw

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 12, 2014 - 01:16pm PT
John, read the article I posted upthread on this page. There are very smart people who advised on the Common Core, and then when it came time to sign off in agreement chose not to. Look at your own standards in CA as an alternative model that is better than the Common Core.

What bothers me more than the Common Core is this farce that it somehow improves math education in the US.

And the opposition is not coming only from the far right. Please read up on the issue before posting your exaggerated opinions.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 12, 2014 - 01:29pm PT
I read the article, wbw, and agree that California's standards, and those of several other states, exceed those of Common Core. The reaction to those rather minimal Common Core standards tells us how far we have yet to go if we intend to improve math education in the US.

Incidentally, my daughter taught math under an IB curriculum to seventh and eighth graders the last two years. She's now back teaching high schoolers, though, because, as she put it, "middle school students are just too fragile." (She has a sarcastic streak that her high school students love, but her middle school [and particularly seventh grade] students weren't so sure about).

John
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 12, 2014 - 08:49pm PT
I should simply have expressed my frustration when undergrads in my introductory economics classes couldn't perform the most basic algebraic manipulations, or graduate students who allegedly passed multivariate calculus couldn't understand its need or application in calculating the least-squares estimators for parameters and statistics of fit for multiple regressions

Oh yeah, I feel your pain.

We see these kinds of problems on a daily basis. But we also see some excellent well-prepared students who learn and grow in their mathematical sophistication. I do think there is a tendency for the poorly prepared and poorly motivated students to loom larger in our consciousness as we try to figure out how to do the things we are supposed to be doing with people who are several levels removed from being ready. And it does seem unfathomable how they got this far without someone pulling the plug.

One partial answer I've seen in action: they learn things and then just totally forget them. This is an experimentally-verified artifact of cramming behavior. But it is also, I think, a byproduct of the perception, advanced here several times, that none of the stuff matters and education generally is just a big fraternity initiation rite in which people who were obliged to do unpleasant things to join now, as members, inflict analogously meaningless pain on the newcomers. So you suffer through that multivariable calculus course, viewing it as the intellectual equivalent of swallowing goldfish, and purge it from consciousness as soon as possible, secure in the faulty knowledge that you'll never need that shite again.
Messages 241 - 260 of total 275 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Review Categories
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews