Downward creep

It doesn’t change every year, but as time goes on, some material is dropped. It’s not as if we don’t add new material, but  the courses aren’t like they used to be. Many of us bemoan the level of knowledge of the students, although we know that some things have improved.

What’s gotten better:

Graphing. When I studied math, the graph of a polynomial took time, and often required calculus. Now it is zipped out with a calculator in seconds. If well taught, students can be given many examples of functions of all types.

Modeling. When I started teaching, we still did age problems. Those of you who are old enough will remember the types of problems. (If Sally was twice as old as Ann three years ago and the difference between their ages is 11 years, how old will they be in two years? Who cares?) Now we actually model some real life situations. Looking at one section of problems of a  textbook, I see problems on world population, credit cards, interest rates, Google, air bags, and abuse of prescription drugs. Although many students won’t find all of these interesting, there is a good chance that at least one topic will interest them.

Looking at problems from different points of view. Problems are now looked at with formulas, numbers, graphs, and real life situations. Previously, the emphasis was on formulas.

Use of the calculator. Don’t think of the calculator as a tool to make math easier. Think of it as a tool to enable the students to learn more.

What’s gotten worse:

Arithmetic. I see students use the calculator to multiply four times seven. One of my colleagues helped a student who used a calculator to subtract one from three. Students have comparatively little number sense, and can’t look at a number and know it is divisible by three.

Algebraic manipulations.  The hard problems aren’t even demonstrated. The algebra on tests is much simpler.

Is it an improvement? I don’t know, but before bemoaning what we’ve lost or praising what we’ve gained, we should look at the whole picture.



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