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The Math You Don't Learn is Harder Still

  1. Nov 15, 2006 #1
    I had no idea things had gotten nearly this bad. Does anyone here have any experience of this? It is evidently only recently the increase in this "teaching" philosophy has ceased expanding.

    From NYT:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/14/education/14math.html" [Broken]
    Note that the NYT prevents you from accessing articles more than 14 days old. I've saved a copy in case the debate continues past that point.
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  3. Nov 15, 2006 #2
    My have been martialed through high school with the help of TI calculators. They do not issue text books or any meaningfull homework. All I get from them when I ask them how they figure certain things is, "Let me borrow your calculator and I can tell you." I love calculators and computers, don't get me wrong, but at their level they should be doing as much by hand calculation as possible. Here in Texas every is geared toward the TAKS test. So if it isn't tested for on that, you just don't need to learn it I guess.
  4. Nov 15, 2006 #3
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  5. Nov 15, 2006 #4

    How does long division stifle creativity?
  6. Nov 15, 2006 #5
    My initial thought is that it's a reasonable complaint. These are young students in elementary schools, they have no inkling of algebraic manipulation and presumably have no clue how these "algorithms" work. They must take them for granted, memorizing a procedure without any understanding of what it means. I'd think that blind faith and memorization are not appropriate introductions to math. Why can't long division be held off until these kids are doing algebra, and can actually prove and comprehend what they're doing?

    It's not like there's an urgent pragmatic need for long division, either - not even in the hard sciences. It's on the same level as say, digit-by-digit algorithm for computation of square roots (which if I'm right dates back to the medieval ages.) Does anyone complain about that algorithm not being taught in grade school?
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  7. Nov 15, 2006 #6


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    I don't know about the creativity argument, but there apparently is some legitimate debate over this issue: http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~ar9/LDApaper2.html

    I can certainly see the logic of it being more important to know what math is than how to do certain pieces of it. The logical thought processes learned by doing word problems, algebra, and geometry are a foundation for everything that comes later. We had someone in here recently who complained that a kid in his class who was getting an "A" in a calculus class didn't have a clue as to what a derivative actually was. To me, knowing that is just as important as being able to memorize the steps in an algorithm to solve one.

    Lets face it:

    When was the last time you added/subtracted numbers by hand? (for me: this morning)
    When was the last time you used algebra? (for me: this morning)
    When was the last time you used calculus? (for me: this morning)
    When was the last time you did long division? (for me - its been years)

    On the other hand, to be perfectly honest, I can't figure out what kids would be doing in math class were they not learning things like manual arithmetic. It is tough looking back from here, but it doesn't seem like there is much to math before you get to algebra....
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  8. Nov 15, 2006 #7
    I think long division reinforce some simple concepts such as place value. If nothing else by hand calculation does teach some attention to details. It may also help in understanding fractions and mixed numbers in general later on.
  9. Nov 15, 2006 #8
    I am a product of integrated math (a new way of teaching math).

    Before high school I loved math. My first day of my first year of highschool we were all handed out Ti calculators. We checked them with the teacher and were told that we were able to hold onto them for the year. This was the start of a new way of teaching math. Integrated math (in whatever form I was exposed to) was tested on our class, we were the guinni pigs for the program. I'm sure it really started on us due to some type of funding, but that is merely speculation.

    Integrated math, is all the typical math programs integrated into one. I never took an algebra class, a trig course, or calculus. In fact I had no idea what I was doing, we were just shown new ideas and expected to use them to solve problems. Our in class assignments were done in groups. We were required to keep a journal that would count as 10% of our grade, and was encouraged to use on exams.

    The journal was a place for us to write down "math notes". We were told that we would never have to memorize all these formulas in the workplace, so why learn that way? We worked in groups, and this mainly consisted of the "smartest" (whoever understood integrated math) doing all of the work.

    I started at the university in pre-college algebra. Some people actually started in basic math courses when they went to university. Classes that would teach multiplication and division.

    One teacher wrote a book at our school that was title (I don't have the exact title) along the lines "everything you need to know in highschool math, that integrated math doesn't teach". It was very thick. He ended up resigning because he hated the program.

    Anything good out of all this?
    - I can type blindfolded on my calculator. That's a good skill right?
    - The program is no longer taught at the school.

    Anyone a lawyer? I'd love a class action lawsuit against the school. A lot of students had to take college courses that cost money, just to be at an introductory university level. I shouldn't have had to pay for those courses.

    If you ever meet someone who has gone through integrated math, please give them a hug.
  10. Nov 15, 2006 #9
    I think the use of a calculator is important in moderation. Since I became so proficient in using one, I can do some things that take a long time to do by hand. Some students have NO idea how to use one at all. I'd rather be those students, but still... the use of the calculator should probably still be taught.

    My suggestion would be all math courses (in highschool) should be taught without a calculator. They could reserve time at the end to use a calculator to check results, or something along those lines. I know there are more politics here, such as student failure rate, etc... but seriously, I wouldn't mind punching whoever thought this was a good idea in the eye socket. Not to mention all those mathematicians who had their work referenced as as (1) instead of Euler's identity (for example).
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  11. Nov 15, 2006 #10


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    Long division is an excellent example of how we ought to sub-group a given number in an intelligent manner so that the result of a particular arithmetical process can be rephrased as "simply" as possible.

    For example, if we are to perform the division 23456:12 (i.e, get that number's decimal representation), to develop the understanding that we first might divide the "thousands" by twelve, then the "hundreds" by 12 and so on, then this, indeed, is very relevant for understanding arithmetics as such.
    But this is, essentially, what "long division" is about..
  12. Nov 15, 2006 #11
    The alternative is for them to never have any sort of skill they can see how to apply during the years between. How often do you actually need to divide 27 remaining gumdrops between three kids? Probably not very often. When you do, you just count them out. But there are plenty of cases where you could use math, if only you knew what it was. Even if you do not use the math to actually perform the calculation, just thinking that you could if you were willing to put in the effort leads to a much more positive attitude when those rare occaisions arise that being able to do so is a real benefit, and becomes worth the effort.

    Then there is the parallels to language. No one would try to argue that younger children learn different languages and thought structures more slowly than adults.

    Then there is the issue of putting the cart before the horse. What is algebra? How does algebra make any sense at all if you have no uderstanding of the underlying operations? Why doesn't addition associate since multiplcation does? If you actually knew what addition and multiplication were, and had practice using them, you'd see that right off the bat. I know I did. I didn't have to think about what the meanings of additional and multiplication were, since I simply knew, having had a great deal of practice using them by the time anyone got around to telling me about the associative rule.

    It's a lot like entry level calculus. Simply being able to solve the problem with sufficient thought isn't adequate. Being able to solve it almost without thinking is vital if you want to move beyond it. Yes, everyone knows you can derive the division rule from the multiplcation rule. But, as one of my professors said, "I don't care if you've taken five qualudes and passed out in a puddle of beer. If I roll you over and shout, 'Division!', I want you to tell me this," as he pointed at the board.

    He was right, and for two reasons. When you get 100 questions on a test, you aren't going to have time to run through the derivation. But, far more importantly, you're going to miss some solutions completely for the simple reason you did not recognize a pattern you ought to have been intimately familiar with.
  13. Nov 15, 2006 #12
    Wow -- I thought math gave my creavitity a new set of tools.

    Also -- I am even still known to do a bit of long division from time to time. Sometimes my calculator (or my dad's slide rule!) are lost in the lab, and I don't want to turn on the computer for a simple calculation. Sometimes I do it in my head to figure out best price/quantity (not always listed) at the grocery store etc... although I probably now more commonly use scientific notation to make the division easier, not all answers are whole numbers...
  14. Nov 15, 2006 #13


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    The main fallacies in modern pedagogical approaches to maths are the following:

    1. Kids can't understand logic.
    This is utterly false, but is, if not explicitly stated, a main tenet in modern pedagogics (mainly because it is the pedagogical gurus themselves who don't understand logic).
    To teach in accordance to the principle that kids actually DO have a sense of logic means that you believe logical rigour, to SOME extent, is actually beneficial to the development of the kids' understanding of maths, rather than detrimental.

    For example, demanding of kids to actually define their terms, which quantities are "known" and which are "unknown" and so on, and REQUIRE that they actually write this down as a preliminary list before they start the actual problem solving is an example of logical rigour that would immensely benefit many kids in structuring their thought processes in a constructive manner.
    This, however, in modern pedagogics, would be termed an "abstract" requirement; the important thing is that the kids get their answers right, right?

    2. Maths needs to be practically applicable in the kid's day-to-day life.

    The simple, unavoidable fact is that the maths you learn beyond the calculation of percentages will only marginally affect the "ordinary person's" life. (And even the maths before that can usually be neglected without adverse effects.

    Thus, you get silly, utterly fake applicability problems filling up the maths books, rather than problems designed primarily to develop mathematical SKILL and mathematical UNDERSTANDING, irrespective of its "practical" value.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  15. Nov 15, 2006 #14


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    With a little rewording...

    How often do you add subtract numbers, by hand or in your head? many times a day (almost entirely in my head)
    How often do you use algebra, on paper or in your head? many times a day, in my head; much less on paper
    How often do you use calculus, on paper or in your head? maybe a few times a day, on average
    How often do you do long division, on paper or in your head? almost never on paper, but in my head, many times a day

    The results will probably vary from person to person...so I don't think there's much of to take away from this.

    In my opinion, the seeing of a dichotomy between learning basic skills and learning concepts is itself the problem.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  16. Nov 15, 2006 #15


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    True. As soon as we learned long division in our tiny grade school, the teacher gave us some problems with the divisor or dividend missing. She was a pretty sharp old bird because if a kid did not understand the relationship between multiplication and division they would struggle with the problems and she hadn't gotten the concepts across well enough. She not only taught the operations, she tied the new concepts back to things we already knew and demanded that we understand the relationships. Doesn't this happen in schools anymore?
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  17. Nov 15, 2006 #16
    I've found long division to be very useful when certain unscrupulous professors ban the use of calculators on tests that require extensive numerical manipulation...

    Besides, is long division really THAT hard? Took me a day or two to "get" it.
  18. Nov 15, 2006 #17


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    If it were your slide rule, you'd be in contention for second sexiest female PF member. Oh, well, I guess you could always take out his knee with a billy club and steal it.

    It's also embarrassing if you're given a problem that uses a function you don't know how to use. Then there's the poor guy that bought a new calculator for around $200 and had to give up and go buy a simpler calculator for around $150. I'm always amazed at how many students don't realize a lot of the constants they need are already in their calculator and that they can store any additional constants they need (Even slide rules have built in constants, and, technically, you can store any additional constants you need with a trusty pocket knife, but - aauuugh! :surprised - it might be better to just remember them.)
  19. Nov 15, 2006 #18


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    "Algebra?" Don't say "algebra" out loud in public --- take the Pharmaceutical Technician Training approach --- teach algorithms for mixing two different stock concentrations to prepare a prescribed concentration; call it algebra, and the tech preparing your prescription is going to panic --- call it "Pharm Tech," and they'll learn it, not understand it, but prepare your medication "correctly" more often than if they had to do the "algebra."

    "New math?" "Interactive math?" Garbage. The damage was done fifty years ago. "Reversible?" Gonna take a lotta work.
  20. Nov 15, 2006 #19


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    Right. Then again when I need long division I usually have a calcultor.
    Sounds like my kind of class if it was taught well and with very good students (unlikely)! Just smash everything together. I bet you can see connections much better and can learn more.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2006
  21. Nov 15, 2006 #20


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    Surely you have an old Dietzgen Polymath kicking around that you could scribe some constants on!
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