Saturday, July 02, 2005

Teaching Mathematics--Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum has been researching a Diane Ravitch comparison of the indices to two math books, one from 1973 and one contemporary that were used to support an assertion that modern math courses dumb down the subject. See here. I find the comments particularly fascinating. In my youth I was good at math but a teacher with an bad accent in calculus my freshman year ended any thoughts of doing it for a living. Now I've forgotten most all of the terms and can't really follow much of the discussion. ("graphing calculator"--what's that all about?)

I have to agree with the comment by an engineer--that the experience of working something by hand, not calculator, has helped him over the years by allowing him to estimate for reasonableness of result. That's an important ability, because sometimes reporters are math illiterates and pass along incredible statistics. (For example, recently the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally was estimated at a few hundred thousand people, but any calculation of reasonableness would make it much lower.)

I can also readily believe that modern kids have harder math than I had. That's the historic pattern, every generation does a bit more than the previous. (Read a book about numeracy in early America and the Founding Fathers were lucky if they knew arithmetic.)

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