# Math literacy tanks even further

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by WBahn, Feb 11, 2015.

1. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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One of the professors here put together a quiz to give his Calc-I students on the first day of class. The intent was to find out not how well prepared the students were in terms of pre-calc material (the answer to that has been more than adequately established, to everyone's chagrin), but how well prepared they are on basic (mostly middle-school) algebra. The motivation for doing so is the increased pressure to improve the "success rate" of Calc-I, defined by the fraction of enrolling students that get a grade of C or higher, to at least 85%. A "successful teacher" is one who meets this criteria. Note that absolutely no effort is made to how well "successful students" of "successful teachers" fare in Calc-II or other courses compared to other students.

Here's the quiz.

1) Factor x^2 - x - 2 completely.

2) Same directions: x^4 - 16.

3) Multiply out: (x+4)^2.

4) Same directions: (X-1)(x+5).

5) Solve by any method: x^2 - 2x = -1.

6) Solve by any method: x(x-2)(x-3) = 0.

7) Simplify if possible. If not possible, write "not possible":

x+1
------
x+2

8) Simplify if possible. If not possible, write "not possible":

sqrt ( x^2 + y^2 )

9) What is cos(pi)?

10) What is sin(3pi/2)?

Note that on the quiz exponents were shown as exponents (not using the ^ operator), that sqrt() and pi used the standard symbols, and the fraction in #7 was printed as a fraction instead of the three line wannabe fraction used here.

The average score on this quiz was 50%.

Already this semester I have dealt with a junior comp sci major that literally did not know what an average was. He had to Google it (and still didn't grasp it). This was after having to Google what a millisecond was and having no idea what a gigahertz or megahertz was.

I worked with another junior that had to bring up the Windows calculator to find 12345 divided by 1000. Then had to use the Windows calculator again to find 12345 divided by 10000. Then again to find 12345 divided by 10. Then, you guessed it, again to divide by 100.

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2. ### Papabravo Expert

Feb 24, 2006
11,123
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And exactly why is this a surprise. The probably can't count to 13 in English or their first language.

3. ### tcmtech Distinguished Member

Nov 4, 2013
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Well to be honest I cant do any of those equations being there is no defined value for X I can see but I can do the 12345 and related stuff in my head faster than most people can with a calculator.

Applied math that uses real numbers and real equations relating to real life problems is easy for me but anything that anyone claims to be math that uses the alphabet without defined values for the letters forget it I have zero time or interest in it. Never have never will.

4. ### wayneh Expert

Sep 9, 2010
13,605
4,401
I find that a little hard to believe, but anyway the ability to do simple algebra and symbolic math is a prerequisite for anyone signing up for Calc-1 class. I can't imagine trying to grasp calculus and keep up without already having a good grasp of "the language" of math.

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5. ### wayneh Expert

Sep 9, 2010
13,605
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Things you don't measure tend to get worse, and conversely I've seen things get better in industrial environments with no more action than merely starting to measure it. It's hard to convince the line workers that some parameter is important, if you don't even measure it.

I was extremely impressed with the U. of Chicago business school's approach to this. Every student fills out a survey on every class, covering things like hours per week spent on homework, quality of the teacher, usefulness of the material and so on. Maybe 30 metrics or so. And boy oh boy, I can tell you that a 5-star teacher is indeed superior to a 2-star teacher. A 2-star teacher at the U of C would be a star in many other locations but the 5-star ones are truly stellar.

My point is, the rating system gives a lot of timely feedback on how things are going with every subject and teacher. It's hard to make continuous improvements without that sort of attention.

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6. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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Notice that I didn't say it was a surprise. I wish it were, but I got past that silly notion over twenty years ago.

Jul 16, 2011
836
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wow.

8. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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Yep, algebra is foundational for calculus. My high school calc teacher was fond of saying that you can teach the principles of calculus to a third grader and many of them will understand the concepts just fine, but the algebra would kill them. I always figured he was exaggerating for effect, but I've actually had occasion to introduce some fifth and sixth graders to the concepts of calculus (particularly integral calculus) and they really did seem to have little trouble with them.

But without the algebra skills, it is nearly impossible to get much beyond the qualitative conceptual understanding and into the meat of the subject. So these kids are crippled before they even start -- and it only gets worse from here as they move on to more advanced material with increasingly poor preparation.

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9. ### GopherT AAC Fanatic!

Nov 23, 2012
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Megahertz is obviously a wrestling move on WWF that really hurts.
Gigahertz, see above but twice as bad.

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10. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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And here I would have thought it was a thousand times worse.

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11. ### cmartinez AAC Fanatic!

Jan 17, 2007
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Shouldn't Gigahertz be a thousand times as bad a move as Megahertz?

12. ### GopherT AAC Fanatic!

Nov 23, 2012
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What do you and @WBahn know about wrestling! Nobody is 1000 times stronger than another guy, especially a guy who can already give a megahertz to someone! What a bunch of dorks! You guys don't know nothing!

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13. ### cmartinez AAC Fanatic!

Jan 17, 2007
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Well ... duh!... I didn't mean 1000 stronger... but a 1000 times more hurtful! ... as if !... really dude, get your facts straight...

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14. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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But if we have to put up with grade-inflation, doesn't it stand to reason that wrestling has to contend with pain-inflation.

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15. ### cmartinez AAC Fanatic!

Jan 17, 2007
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I thought it was more about pain-infliction...

16. ### WBahn Thread Starter Moderator

Mar 31, 2012
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Infliction-inflation!

17. ### #12 Expert

Nov 30, 2010
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I was gonna say that, being well polished in algebra, first semester Integral Calculus was intuitive for me, but I wouldn't want to interfere with a serious intellectual conversation.

18. ### Brownout Well-Known Member

Jan 10, 2012
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I've heard you don't really learn something until you apply it. In calculus, you apply algebra, thus you learn algebra in calculus.

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19. ### cmartinez AAC Fanatic!

Jan 17, 2007
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20. ### Glenn Holland Member

Dec 26, 2014
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The U.S. school system is a complete mess and proficiency in reading, writing, math, and science is virtually nonexistent.

Unfortunately, anyone who proposes any serious reform is immediately dog piled by the social engineers who like the status quo. From my own experience, proponents of educational reform find themselves living in a "Twilight Zone" where workable ideas are ridiculed as either "Can't Do" or "There's nothing wrong with what we're doing and we should continue with the same (-IE- failed) policy".

Many have made the observation that the U.S. is headed down the same road to Hell that did in Roman Empire.