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Solving Homework Problems

  1. Apr 30, 2005 #1

    ZapperZ

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    I've seen this happened a few times in the HW help section. Someone asked a question, a few people spent a lot of time trying to give hints, guidance, etc. on how to solve the problem. And then, BAM, suddenly someone intervened and literally did the whole problem for this person.

    It happened again just recently:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=73674

    I see Data and whozum patiently giving as much info as they can to help the OP in solving the problem. This tends to take more time and effort than simply just solving the damn problem for this person. Yet, all their efforts are simply washed away when someone comes in and did the problem for the OP.

    I know how frustrating this can be when all the efforts you've put in just went into nothing. Unfortunately, it is also not against any rules to solve the whole problem for anyone. However, is it possible to gently remind the "offender" that, if we go by Tom's Sticky in that section, that if one really wish to help someone, solving the problem for that person isn't the way to do it? I just feel that it undermines the whole spirit of the HW Help section, especially when we tell people that we're not here to do their homework problem for them.

    Zz.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 30, 2005 #2
    It kinda bugs me too.
     
  4. Apr 30, 2005 #3
    I disagree, giving a complete solution can be very instructive. The clue is to ask whether the OP actually understand this solution. then one can ask a similar question. This approach is usefull because it helps people to recognize certain patterns that directly lead to a correct algoritm that cracks the problem. So in general, i think it is all relative and both ways of instructing people are very good. If it happens that both arise as an answer to one question, so be it. What do you care ?

    marlon
     
  5. Apr 30, 2005 #4

    arildno

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    What I find is absolutely essential when you are to give a full solution, is that OP ALREADY has shown a lot of work, but for some reason has got stuck.

    Not infrequently, one of the main reasons why a person gets stuck, is that he gets in trouble due to his own poor and confusing notation (as evidenced by his posted work).

    In that particular case, to post a model solution can be highly instructive.

    In many (most?) other cases, though, I would agree with ZapperZ here.
    In particular, if others are doing a great job in providing hints to how to proceed, they should be respected for their efforts (i.e, one should refrain from posting own full solutions, or at least, wait until OP and the others have worked themselves through to the solution in their pace and manner)
     
  6. Apr 30, 2005 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Yes, I agree. In the case I just cited, it was still in the beginning stages and the OP still does not even know where to start. I just think that the person who simply posted the whole solution undermined the fine effort the other two were trying to do.

    BTW, I nominate OlderDan for Homework Helper medal. He's done more than his share at truly providing terrific help.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2005
  7. Apr 30, 2005 #6

    arildno

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    Well, bahamut has, as yet, only 6 posts, and we really should be lenient in the case of first-time offenders..:wink:

    And yes, I agree, OlderDan certainly deserves that medal..
     
  8. Apr 30, 2005 #7

    dextercioby

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    Sometimes is useful,sometimes not.For simple,high-school problems,i'd say only hints are enough.If u have a QM/QFT problem,then maybe u need a complete solution,some things are not really obvious and the amount of knowledge necessary to do it is quite large.

    So,i agree both with Zapper (for the specified example) and with Marlon & Arildno which agree on posting of full solutions by the knowledgeable PF members,but only for difficult (college) problems.

    I fully support Zapper's proposal for a new homework helper.

    Daniel.
     
  9. Apr 30, 2005 #8

    arildno

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    A more thorough derivation of some result than that given in a poster's textbook is, of course, a typical example where a full "solution" is warranted.
    But, then again, this can hardly be called an exercise, unless it was given as an exercise, rather than as an incomplete argument in some book..
     
  10. Apr 30, 2005 #9

    Moonbear

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    The same thing happens in the biology forums. We get some biology homework questions there (otherwise they get buried on the main homework page before anyone who knows enough about biology to help can find them). Some are straightforward definition type questions that really can't be answered any other way, but some are more complex questions that I'll start to prompt the student through with some simpler questions first, only to come back and find someone else has come along and just given them the entire answer (though sometimes it can be difficult there identifying who is asking a homework question and who just has a question about something they learned in class that isn't an actual homework question, or just random questions people think up that has nothing to do with a class they are currently taking at all).

    And yes, I've seen this in the main homework help section too, and just reading through those can be frustrating because I see where someone has been prompting a student along, putting a lot of effort into getting them to understand it, and then someone else comes along and hands the answer to them. I wouldn't find it as frustrating if the student stuck around and continued to ask for clarification of steps in the solution, showing that they are still interested in understanding it, not just scribbling it onto the paper they'll hand in for their homework, but too often that just ends the questioning and the OP disappears again.

    The problem, as far as I can tell, is the disconnect between how those of us who have completed our formal education (or are at an advanced stage of education) view homework help (helping someone do their own homework so they really learn to do it well) and those who are more of a peer group to those asking the questions who suddenly get excited to see a problem they DO know how to solve and think homework help is doing the problem for them. It defeats the purpose to just hand them the solution that they can then copy onto their homework assignment and hand in without any further thought.

    I think most times it isn't any one person doing this, so it's hard to do much about it. But, once in a while, there's a serial "know-it-all" on the board who runs around posting solutions to everyone's problems without giving the OP a chance to figure out how to do it on their own. In those cases, a PM to the member posting answers reminding them that we don't hand out solutions but offer help for students to get past the point where they are stuck and do the rest of the problem for themselves might be in order.

    Maybe a separate sticky below the one about "Before you Post Here" that is titled, "Read before you answer questions here," that outlines the goal of guiding students through their own solutions would be beneficial to remind the over-zealous of the board's purpose without discouraging those students who are suddenly excited that there is finally a problem posted that they do understand from taking a turn trying to give help instead of only receiving.

    This problem doesn't necessarily ever go away for some people. Some faculty even need to be reminded when their grad students are in committee meetings that we know the faculty mentor knows the answers to the questions we are asking the student, we want to know if the student knows the answer. :wink:
     
  11. Apr 30, 2005 #10

    Moonbear

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    This is an important distinction for another reason. In high school classes, students are often being graded on the homework assignments, so it really should be their own work and effort (the teacher isn't giving the assignment to find out if a physics grad student can do a basic high school physics problem, they are giving the assignment to find out if the student understands what they are doing). On the other hand, by the time someone is in advanced college classes, assignments are rarely graded, but are given as exercises for practice on your own. At that later stage of education, one is no longer just looking for a solution to put down on paper, but is doing the homework with the conscious decision to better understand the material, so handing someone at that stage a solution isn't going to undermine their learning because they will either see the solution and understand where they went wrong, or see the solution and still not understand why it is the solution, so continue to ask questions to obtain the understanding. At younger ages, students haven't always developed that skill of going past the solution and ensuring they understand why every step of the solution was included and why they missed getting it on their own.
     
  12. May 1, 2005 #11

    dextercioby

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