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Math Forum » Discussions » Courses » ap-calculus

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Replies: 1   Last Post: May 26, 1997 7:45 AM

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jerry rosen

Posts: 244
Registered: 12/6/04
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Posted: May 24, 1997 2:02 AM
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I have been following the debate over the importance of basic algebra vs
calculators.

In the best of all possible worlds our students would be good at hard
core algebra and be able to use machines when necessary.

But at CSUN we are far from the best of all possible worlds.

We have 400 fewer math majors than we did a decade ago and our average
calculus student, regardless of major, knows next to no math, does not
study but can deal with a calculator and a computer.

This person would stand no chance on a job which required some creativity
and learning something new.

Last year we had a Mark Jankins - a senior software engineer from Disney
Feature Animation - come give a lecture on how math is used to simulate
camera motion in their animated features. It is all advanced calculus.
Dr. Jankins is a person who spends his life working with computers and is
completely unimpressed with this aspect of a student's college training.
He told me that if a Disney hire wants to be more than a thirty grand a
year hacker, they will need to be able to learn math and theoretical
computer science from texts which have proofs. He saw no value in using
calculators and/or computers in the teaching of mathematics.

The chairwoman of our CS dept. at CSUN told me that she was teaching a
junior level CS programming class and her students were very good at high
level programming but could not follow the most elementary logical math
arguments. She expressed concern that this will ultimately harm them in
their future CS careers.

I can go on and on with such examples. The argument concerning the
importance of the rational root test and other algebraic ideas is the not
the primary issue. While these things certainly have application, their
main value is that students who have learned these things have developed
their mathematical sophistication to a certain point where they are able
to apply concepts in various settings. Furthermore, such students have
developed the important ability to work independently and know how to
devote time to learning.

It might be that Richard's student's are good at math and can excel in
real college courses. If this is the case I say good job to Richard and
am reasonably sure more is going on in his classes than just button
punching. But at CSUN, where we admit only the top third of the
graduating HS class, we are getting hundreds of very poorly trained
students who can't do anything other than button punching. These students
have received much of their training under the California Framework which
advocates calculators be used in kindergarten. Hundreds of my students
have attended HS's where calculators were prominent and these are almost
always the weakest students.

Many of my friends who I went to public school with in NYC (in the '60's
and early '70's) learned math with no calculators and computers. They had
no trouble with math and science in college and those who needed to learn
something about machines had no problem. These were slightly above
average students who would be in the genius category compared to our
current crop of HS graduates.

I agree with David that it is perfectly absurd to think that students can
excel in college math without a solid background in the fundamentals. Of
course, we can re-norm our courses, but this doesn't change the fact that
such a student will have a gaping whole in their education and in my
experience will have a very poor chance of doing well in a college math
course which has genuine assessment and content.

Jerry Rosen





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