number senselessness
April 7, 2008, 12:33 pm

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School
So at the risk of kind of stepping on what i just talked about a few posts ago about being sensationalist, i want to type about something that it really hurts to see, especially as a science/math inclined person. Many of our kids struggle with math and sometimes it pops up in the strangest ways.

Here’s an example: recently in class we’ve been working on calculating kinetic energy, i.e. the old KE=1/2mv^2. Anyway, enough students for me to notice were having trouble with entering the equation into a calculator if they were doing a problem in a calculator. “how do we enter fractions, how do we enter the 1/2 into the calculator?” or something similar they would say, or i’d look down and see that they have: 1.2, or 1.5 entered to represent 1/2. Yikes! “These do not equal 1/2. You actually don’t have to enter it as a fraction, you can just enter 1 (division sign) 2 and go from there or .5” I’d say. I couldn’t believe it. Not that we haven’t run into problems with math before, it’s just this is such devastating example.

I think this is a pretty terrible example of what a calculator can do. Unless used with care, it robs them of the ability do basic computation, and worse, to recognize when it’s not doing what they think its doing.

A good example is with fractions goes something like this: “what do you think? if the number on top is smaller than the number on the bottom, when you divide it, will the result be greater or less than one?” A disturbing fraction of students won’t know. We shouldn’t even have to have this discussion! We shouldn’t have to reason through it. It makes it very clear though when we’re trying to build science concepts on such a foundation and use their math tools, why it can seem so daunting to some students. Arg. Teaching science often becomes teaching and reviewing math too.

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