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Saturday, September 17, 2005

It has been a while; a philosophical question:

The start of the semester has gotten in the way of my blogging. :-) But I am in between watching football and grading exams.

For the first part of the semester, I had a "refereeing" job to do for a math journal. Basically, when someone writes an article for a math journal, the journal sends the paper to a mathematician to be checked for accuracy and to be checked for quality (i. e., is what is being offered really a good contribution to the literature?).

In this referee job, the authors submitted a result that was worth publishing, and their proof was, on technical grounds, basically correct. But their proof was quite dreary; there were far more elegant and elementary ways to reach their conclusions and any specialist who read their article would note that immediately.

So, what was my duty in this case? What I ended up doing is telling the editor what I just said and made the necessary suggestions.

Now, as far as grading exams: I am teaching a "calculus with precalculus" class. Basically, we go through the first semester of a standard engineering/science/math calculus class at half speed; the two semesters of this class put together counts as one semester of calculus.

On this exam, several (20-25% of the class) presented the following answer: "9 < x < 3".

Ok, perhaps a few made a blunder during the pressure of an exam; we've all done that. But, there are students in this class who simply don't see why this statement is complete nonsense. And frankly, they won't be able to unless it is explained to them "very slowly".

Folks, these students simply don't have a chance of success in any major that requires mathematical ability. I actually have stronger thought than this (in that there are majors that these students could succeed in) but I probably better keep these thoughts to myself.

Sigh....I suppose we sometimes have to find things out the hard way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say,
"Folks, these students simply don't have a chance of success in any major that requires mathematical ability."

I'm reminded of Scott Adams'
quote "Good looks are more
important to being happy
than brains."

Also, when in grad school for
Computer Science I had an
undergrad' roommate who couldn't
do remedial algebra to save
his life. He annoyed me by
making comments about how
successful he'd be, needing
only "to hire a few techies"
to take care of the mundane
tasks (like math?) that he
couldn't do. Years later, on
my lunch break working at
a not-so-successful start
up I strolled through a marina
only to run into the ex-roommate
shopping for a yacht.

So ... there you go ...

7:39 AM  
Blogger ollie said...

Oh, I didn't say that a few of these people wouldn't be rich some day; after all I doubt that many NFL/NBA players or top notch singers/actors are good at math or engineering.

And I admit that I'd be a hopeless failure at running a business.

One famous person who sucked royally at mathematics: George Patton (the general).

7:49 AM  

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