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Topic: Bring math back to Earth
Replies: 14   Last Post: Jul 15, 2001 4:06 PM

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James R. Frysinger

Posts: 12
Registered: 12/8/04
Bring math back to Earth
Posted: Apr 23, 1999 1:50 PM
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As a teacher of science (experienced in teaching in high schools and
colleges) I find my students woefully underequipped to do any useful
math. Somehow, the useful concepts and skills got pushed aside to
teach more advanced topics such as set theory, number theory, etc. In
the meantime, the students never got a chance to learn how to count
their toes.

High school algebra teachers seem to have abrogated their
responsibility to teach logarithms. Some have told me that "nobody
uses them anymore since we don't need logs to multiply big numbers;
calculators do that" and "if a kid needs the log of a number, there's
a button for that on the calculator". Textbooks may have chapters on
logs but the teachers treat that chapter as optional (i.e., not to be
taught unless you're out of material and it's not June).

The upshot is that chemistry teachers must then teach logs to their
students so that they understand pH. And if they get that far the
physics teacher may need to go over logs again so that students
understand other logarithmic topics such as the decibel scale. Or, in
Astronomy, the magnitude scale for stars, etc. Those are but three of
the many topics that scientists use logs for. Start adding in the
slightly harder topics such as reaction kinetics, radioactive decay,
blackbody radiation, power addition of signals, etc. and the students
don't stand a chance unless the science teacher teaches them the math
first.

Another grossly deficient area of teaching is in measurements and the
use of units for quantities, but I'll save that for another posting.

Perhaps the problem is that math teachers are undereducated in the
sciences. Would it be fair to say that science teachers' knowledge of
math exceeds math teachers' knowledge of science -- especially the
physical sciences? I submit that no teacher should be certified to
teach math in high school unless that teacher has successfully
completed one year of college chemistry and one year of college
(algebra-based would be fine!) physics.

Nowhere in the vague, touchy-feely standards do I see any relief in
sight.





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