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Testing Mindless rules that need to be followed in exams

  1. Feb 5, 2012 #1
    I have recently seen my Grade 7 brother's maths homework script and I was shocked to find out that he was marked down for not writing down '(Answer)' next to each of the results for his problems. Also, I found out that he was marked down for writing just 'the cost = ...' and not 'the cost of spraying the insectiside = ...' for one of his problems.

    I begin to wonder what has to got into the minds of the teachers. The focus of a maths test should be on problem-solving, not on following bureaucratic rules like the above. Shouldn't it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2012 #2
    Absolutely it should, but I think the point (which I think they took way, way too far) is to maintain a sense of clarity in the solution. So many students spit out x=whatever without bothering to interpret the meaning.

    The entire mathematics education system these days is out of whack. It needs to be blown up and remade from scratch.
  4. Feb 6, 2012 #3
    I'd have no problem with that since it's obvious from the context what is meant ( unless there were other costs in question and saying the cost was actually ambiguous)
    When I was doing highschool exams I always went out of my way to put big boxes or arrows or bulletpoints beside any final answers for that very reason.
  5. Feb 6, 2012 #4


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    Welcome to the education system for secondary learning.

    Also you should realize that our education system was originally born from the needs of an industrial revolution where people were needed to do the jobs that were required, but not be educated (or 'enlightened') enough to realize how badly they were getting screwed or how they could get out the system and make their own life.

    Things (especially in many areas of STEM) are changing as the needs and requirements are changing (especially with respect to areas that are highly dependent on innovation), but the thing is that a large component from the needs of the industrial revolution still exists and ultimately serves a purpose for the people that have willingly and knowingly designed it.
  6. Feb 6, 2012 #5
    Some middle school/high school teachers don't know any better.

    I remember very clearly that my physics teacher was more interested in doing things "her way" than to entertain and encourage the methods I developed myself in solving problems. It was all a matter about having power and control over whom she perceived to be rebellious teenagers.
  7. Feb 6, 2012 #6
    That's overly cynical. Modern education is replete with questionable topics that I would consider unsuitable for the pre-teen mind: social studies, science, etc, which the bourgeoisie would consider contrary to the cultivation of mechanical and unquestioning minds.
  8. Feb 6, 2012 #7


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    Its not so much the topics: it's what the focus is, how it is taught, the expectations of what is meant to be accomplished (learning objectives) and other things like the presence and function of authority and its impact on the final product of learning.

    You have to distinguish the topics from what is actually being taught. Mathematics allows people to reason, to find flaws in arguments, to engage in debate and do many other interesting things.

    But the fact is that most people don't understand statistics when they read a newspaper headline that spouts number, nor do they understand the full implications of mathematics in financial contracts that they sign that end up screwing them over. They also don't understand basic logic which means that in many cases, they pick the person that is the most persuasive, the best dressed, the loudest, the funniest, the most likeable, or someone with a similar property.

    The same thing applies to other subjects like History. What history is taught in our schools? What does it focus on? How narrow is the focus?

    The same thing is again with science. Sure kids do experiments, but it is rare that kids get anything that is even close to what a scientist gets: they have to read a tonne of knowledge, focus on a history of science that is completely superficial and skip all of the reasoning and the rest of it that adds the context to what science is all about: science has a rich history, natural paths of progression, and all of this comes about as a result of questions and highly charged issues that existed in that day for a reason.

    In school the kids might connect a voltmeter and an ammeter with a simple circuit containing a resistor and a lightbulb which makes a needle go one way or another. So what? What have they learned? They've learned that if you do this, then this happens. It doesn't help them and most will be bored garbageless. Its a useless collection of facts that most people will forget not because they are stupid, or ignorant, or just 'not scientists', but because there is no real substance.

    I know lots of people will disagree with what I have to say in this next paragraph but I will say it anyway and I encourage debate: we treat many children like they are stupid. Many children are capable of more and desire more than what they are getting in standard education systems. It doesn't mean that all children need to learn calculus when they are twelve: that's not what I mean.

    What I mean is that instead of giving children a chance to figure out stuff and become independent early on, we do the opposite: we treat children like they are dumb, stupid, not capable of doing things that are beyond simple and the teachers act that way in front of the kids. I've seen it as a teacher doing a practicum and that was at a very good selective public school.

    Also the biggest thing we do is that we do not encourage children to debate.

    It seems that adults are 'wiser' than children in all respects. Although we have had a lot more experience than children, it is highly arrogant and offensive to treat children like they are pet animals. Some people might think I'm some kind of beatnik artist hippie but I don't care: I've met children that just wanted to learn who weren't Terry Tao or John Von Neumann, but were still capable of doing things that are reserved for the intellectual elite at university level because they had the desire to, but didn't have much support in the educational environment they were in.
  9. Feb 6, 2012 #8
    I do agree with you on most of your post, but I wanted to comment on this especially. I started debating when I was eight years old (covering up my identity, of course). I consider it the best source of education I've had in my life.
  10. Feb 6, 2012 #9


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    It's the seventh grade.

    Particularly at this level, students should be focussing NOT on just the single academic element of mathematics, but on integrating multiple skills such as problem solving and communication of results. At that level, I would encourage the teacher to dock marks even if the student answered as in the second case for not using proper grammar, and even if his or her handwriting was illegible.
  11. Feb 6, 2012 #10


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    Chiro has some interesting points, which for the most part I agree with. And most teachers I know are well aware of the shortcomings of the educational system. It can be quite frustrating to watch students who clearly would benefit from more opportunity simply get bored and even withdraw due to a lack of challenge.

    But the problem isn't so much the the philosophy of teaching itself. The problem lies with resources. Have you ever spent a day in a seventh grade classroom? You've got a group of pre-adolescent kids who are largely mature enough to understand that they don't have to follow 'the rules' and are beginning to experiment with the consequenes the teacher can introduce in their own unique ways. Half of these kids are below average. Some of them are still struggling with the basic skills they will need just to muddle through life.

    So, as a teacher you only have a few hours with all of them each day. Do you spend your limited time trying to help the slower ones who might otherwise make it through the system unable to read? Or do you ignore them and try to come up with challenges for the kids who are doing just fine?

    One solution is to hire more teachers. But that means raising taxes.

    As a parent, I'm not expecting the educational system to turn my children into the best-educated citizens it possibly can. I expect it to provide the fundamentals in a systematic way.

    The rest is my job.
  12. Feb 6, 2012 #11
    My Calc 1 professor had us rewrite the word problems in our own words then write down a plan of attack for the problem on homework and exams. If we didn't write these things down, it was a 0 on that problem. He also wanted a short sentence with the solution much in the same way the OP's brother was supposed to write it. Again, it was a 0 if this wasn't done. The professor was an applied mathematician and wanted us to thoroughly understand each step in translating the words into math. I hated it then but now I understand why he had us do it.
  13. Feb 6, 2012 #12


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    Reminder: we have members from all over the world, and from that viewpoint there is no such thing as the educational system. In some countries, the educational system tends much more strongly towards rote-learning and rigid rules, than in others. It's possible that the OP might consider that one of the systems that later posters are griping about, to be much better than his/her own! (if we all knew which systems we were talking about)
  14. Feb 6, 2012 #13
    In my opinion, it seems to be a good lesson on life. While you can argue that the correct answer is all that matters. I would also like to answer that following instructions also matter. In any work place, it isn't uncommon for a person to have to follow a certain way of doing things.

    For example, writing official memos or documents typically have set formats. Paragraph 1 is about such paragraph graph 2 is about something else, etc. There's rules on the font style and size, and length. There's rules on where things go, and even what kind of paper can be used. Learning to follow rules is an important aspect in life.

    Plus, it's so trivial really. The hard part was finding the answer, the easy part should be to remember that I need to write a sentence with the answer.
  15. Feb 6, 2012 #14


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    I agree with much of what Chiro said, but I would counterbalance some of it with an anecdote about my own interviewing experiece. Two applicants in particular have gone on to be a great success in the company. Neither of them stood out from the crowd on their applications: nothing much to see there beyond a 2-1 mech eng degree from a reputable but middle-ranking university.

    When we asked one of them a few technical questions, without being prompted he drew some neat-looking diagrams and graphs - and even labelled the axes of the graphs.

    When we asked the other one about his final-year project, he didn't tell us much about the technicalities of the engineering. He told is a great deal about figuring out what the customer's real requirements were (not what they initially said they were!) and working within time and budget constraints.

    Maybe those two guys "just knew" how to communicate. or maybe they had been taught somewhere along the line. I don't care how or where they learned it, but I'm happy to see them getting the rewards from being able to do it, from us and not from our competitors!

    Sure, it's poor teaching to tell people to do something without attempting to explain why. But at least the OP's brother is getting negative feedback for not doing something, and that's probably better than no feedback at all.
  16. Feb 6, 2012 #15
    Your examples are extreme, but bureaucratic rules are important. After all, graders are human beings. I just finished grading an exam yesterday. If students do not write clearly, they are torturing the grader. It's bad enough that I have to follow their bizarre thought processes to give them partial credit without having to worry about sloppy, unintelligable, unorganized answers. In the real world, that is the way communication is. If you are writing for an audience and not just yourself, you have to communicate effectively. You might say that it would be a pity to give someone a bad grade if they are good at the subject, but bad at communicating it, but being bad at communicating it is a genuine limitation.

    Also, it's important to show your work because without it, you have not demonstrated that you know what you are doing. Maybe you followed the wrong process or even cheated to get the answer.
  17. Feb 6, 2012 #16


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    showing work....agree
    writing clearly, legibly and neatly.....agree
    insisting answer must be labelled (answer)....disagree

    some teachers abuse their power. it's as simple as that. they insist things be done "their way" just because they can. it's sad, and it's quite common. yes, teaching can be a thankless job, and certainly grading students' work can be exhausting. but when teachers confuse teaching a subject with teaching civil obedience, they have betrayed a certain trust.

    it's a grey area, of course. and sometimes what may seem like "arbitrary rules" are actually in place because they serve some purpose. in the general scheme of things, a bad mark on a test, or even a bad grade in a class....it's not the end of the world.

    unfortunately, there's not much to be done about something like this. our educational system is broken, but fixing it...i don't see it happening. it would cost too much, and people would have to, you know, get involved, and care.
  18. Feb 6, 2012 #17
    Which brings me to this point. Even if you find the teacher's methods awful and hate the class completely, there's another important life lesson in there. Sometimes, you just have to put up with a bad situation in order for a positive outcome. I recall one time my squad was told to take photos of an IED we missed, when common sense told us that we should clear the kill box and wait for experts to do it. All in all, as we attempted to take a photo a secondary IED went off and people got hurt. It by all definitions was a bad situation.

    I didn't agree with the method of taking photos of an explosive hole in that ground that would tell us nothing, but it was my job at the time. When those bad times happen, the motivation was always clear, money for college.

    So the same extent, poor teaching methods, jerks of professor, tough grader, unreasonable assignment, etc, they all may suck, but you just have to learn to adapt and get the results that person wants, because believe it or not, it doesn't change when you start working, if anything it gets worse. But when you find yourself in those places, you need to remind yourself why you're doing these things. It's either for the grade or for the pay, and there's no use in going on a moral attack if there's a chance to lose in either.
  19. Feb 6, 2012 #18
    Students should try to understand why teachers do things. But teachers need to understand that being so draconian (this teacher is pretty extreme especially given its college) is going to push some students out. I admit its my own personality flaws getting in the way but I'd have dropped out of college if this was how teachers usually taught. I don't think I'm alone.
  20. Feb 6, 2012 #19

    Andy Resnick

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    Nobody has asked if, regarding the OP, the students were given specific instructions as to what the form of the answers should be- for example, were the students explicitly told to write "The answer is []"?

    It seems odd to argue over whether or not a set of expectations/instructions are silly (or not) without knowing if there were explicit instructions given.
  21. Feb 6, 2012 #20
    Well, I disagree with that, too, but I was just saying that it really shouldn't be solely a matter of getting the right answer.
  22. Feb 7, 2012 #21
    But that's part of the plan.....

    One reason that employers look highly at bachelor's degrees is that a bachelor's degree shows that you can follow mindless bureaucratic rules when you have to. Yes, you may complain. Yes, you may get seriously annoyed. But at the end of the day, you will do what you are told to do even if you don't like it, in order to get the degree, and that's the type of obedient cogs that companies want to hire.

    If you want "pure learning" then don't bother with degrees. If you don't have to worry about the degree, then if the teacher is acting unreasonably, you just walk out. Once you start worrying about degrees, then you've got to put on the handcuffs.
  23. Feb 7, 2012 #22
    Part of the purpose of any college test is to teach you to follow bureaucratic rules.
  24. Feb 7, 2012 #23
    That's also part of the system. In order to train large numbers of teachers very cheaply, you basically give them a cookbook to follow, and some follow the dots instructions. If you try to have a system in which teachers had to be creative, then you wouldn't be able to find enough people to teach the classes.
  25. Feb 8, 2012 #24
    It's not stupid and capability. It's a product of the economic system. It is extremely unnatural to sit still in a corporate bureaucracy, so to get people to do that requires a huge amount of socialization.

    Because the power system doesn't want people to debate. If you start to debate stuff, you might figure out how much you are being screwed, and might even figure out a way of dealing with this. School is intended to teach people to *shut up and obey*. It's something I have difficulty doing.

    But there is this thing called social hierarchy. Children are taught to obey their parents, not because parents are necessarily wiser, but because they are parents. It's part of socialization. It's often the situation that you are smarter than the person that you are taking orders from, but you have to take orders from them anyway.

    And I've found that the older they get, the less curious kids are because the system is designed to squeeze out curiosity, and turn people into obedient corporate cogs. It may not be such a bad thing because curiosity can get you into serious trouble.
  26. Feb 8, 2012 #25


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    I respect your absolute honesty in this manner, but I can't agree with your justification on this matter with regards to the last reply.

    There are lines of thought that if everybody had the freedom to think what they wanted to that there would be absolute chaos, but to me that seems like a form of propaganda.

    It seems that some people also think that 'they know whats best for everyone else' and end up actually believing their own gospel. Some of these people even think that they are doing it for the right reasons as opposed to just wanting to increase or hold on to their existing power base.

    The whole point is that people want to hold on to their power base and its easy to convince everyone else whether they work for you or whether they are being controlled by you that 'bad things will happen' if such and such is done.

    You don't really have to look far for this and I think many people on this forum realize many forms but may not completely realize the other forums of this that are extremely shrewd and even subtler than what you 'think' really exists.
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