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Topic: Re: Poor Dan (but much poorer Robert)
Replies: 6   Last Post: Dec 13, 2013 6:20 AM

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Louis Talman

Posts: 5,100
Registered: 12/27/05
Re: Poor Dan (but much poorer Robert)
Posted: Dec 12, 2013 11:52 AM
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On Thu, 12 Dec 2013 04:09:10 -0700, Robert Hansen <> wrote:

> This is not a ?plug and chug? problem, it is an algebra problem.

It is both. And there is nothing wrong with either--as such.

The trouble with this problem is that it's dressed up as an application.
But it's an "application" to something with which students have absolutely
no aquaintance and can't begin to understand. How are students at the
level of beginning algebra supposed to make sense of something called
"moment of inertia"?

These students can have no understanding of where the formula comes from
or of what it means. So what the problem does when given at Dan's level
is to reinforce the notion that mathematics consists of a collection of
mysterious rules that are to be memorized so that they can be applied
mindlessly when an appropriate stimulus has been presented. (Of course,
this approach begs the question of how to decide the appropriateness of a
stimulus. But advocates of using mathematics this way don't even notice
that there is a question they must beg, as Bob has shown us.)

Not being one, I don't know if engineers approach mathematics this way or
not. But I've had engineering students in my classes, and I have my
suspicions. Bob's suggestion that the problem in question is a good one
tends to confirm those suspicions.

To be sure, Dan fails to give us any of these insights---especially the
important one about what the problem really "accomplishes"---when he
discusses the problem. He is right about it's being a bad problem, but
he's unable to articulate the reason why it's bad.

- --Louis A. Talman
Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Metropolitan State University of Denver


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