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Topic: Re: real world nonsense
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Michael j. South

Posts: 61
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: real world nonsense
Posted: Nov 27, 1995 6:34 PM
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Goldenberg said:

>Kent, I DID read what you wrote. I'm simply asking you to reconsider your
>position. My point was perhaps made too indirectly, so let me be blunt:
>knowing that students have very definite interests (sports, sex, music,
>etc.), I would urge people posing mathematics problems to take those
>interests into consideration.

Sorry to throw in an irrelevant anecdote, but since you brought up sex...

While teaching an applied math course at Texas Tech I put a question
approximately like the following on an exam:

Assume that (don't remember the number I used) % of the population is HIV
positive, and you engage in high-risk behavior (shaking hands, hugging,
sitting next to in class, etc) with 12 randomly selected people. What is
the probability that you will be exposed to HIV at least once?

Probably should have done a follow-up survey to determine how many people
failed to detect the toungue-in-cheekness of the high risk behavior

I used problems like this frequently on exams, sometimes humorous (in my
opinion, anyway) ("Bob goes nightclubbing to try to pick up women. If he
has a 1 in 20 chance of picking up a woman at any given bar, and he goes to
8 bars, what is the probability of picking up at least one woman?" Didn't
put this on an exam, but used it as a classroom example, with plenty of
humor to diffuse the obvious political incorrectness) and sometimes with
serious overtones (as that above).

I felt that it made class discussions more fun, had some effect on
increasing attentiveness, and it certainly made my job more enjoyable and
challenging (challenging, for example, because every exam, I felt, needed
to live up to the standard that the previous one set for
inventiveness/humor.) I didn't measure any of these effects, however,
although I had the occasional "Wow! I never realized that math could be so
interesting" on student evaluations.

With respect to "real world," I would take examples of mis-used or twisted
statistical inferences from the student newspapers or poorly done
"scientific" studies that had actually happened, just to show them how much
math, if you really understand it, comes in to play in every day life.

Michael South
Shodor Education Foundation, Inc.
628 Gary St
Durham, NC 27703
(919) 688-2176 (voice)
(919) 688-2697 (fax)

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