Monday, April 23, 2012

Math in the Media: To save this math class, we must destroy it!

Words failed me (mostly) when I read this article today in the Washington Post:
At Virginia Tech,  Computers Help Solve a Math Class Problem
It is a common problem that the transition from high school mathematics courses to those at university can be quite difficult to make.  Even in courses whose content is basically the same, like Calculus AB in the AP system and what most universities call Calculus I, the treatment of that content is much different here at the university.  Of course, students sometimes do not do well.  And I am sure that sub-standard teaching from some of us up here may be a part of it.  We need very much to analyze how we teach and learn to do a better job!  And many of us are.  IN fact, here at Hopkins, we are devoting a LOT of resources precisely to this problem of how to better and more comprehensively educate our incoming students.

But to help cure the "problem" of not-high-enough passing rates by essentially removing instructor face-time from teaching!?!  That is patently absurd in my book.

Mathematics is absolutely NOT about learning a few techniques to apply to standard problems set up to test those techniques, which is exactly what many unit-based, worksheet driven, math courses seem to be like pre-college level.  Porting that type of course to the university level may in fact raise passing rates.  But without the ability to study nuanced mathematical ideas and relationships via discussion and debate (think Socrates), one never learns how to THINK mathematically.  Only to calculate.

Maybe that is what VTech is looking for.  I, for one, am not.