Tina K. Russell

April 26, 2008

The Word Problem

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:30 pm

Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices – New York Times

Entranced, perhaps, by those infamous hypothetical trains, many educators in recent years have incorporated more and more examples from the real world to teach abstract concepts. The idea is that making math more relevant makes it easier to learn.

That idea may be wrong, if researchers at Ohio State University are correct. An experiment by the researchers suggests that it might be better to let the apples, oranges and locomotives stay in the real world and, in the classroom, to focus on abstract equations, in this case 40 (t 1) = 400 – 50t, where t is the travel time in hours of the second train. (The answer is below.)


Perhaps I hate word problems because, well, I’ve got ADD, and the time it takes to figure out what the problem is actually asking is plenty of time to be distracted by something shiny. But also, I’ve had math teachers–who are, incidentally, going to Hell–insist that “word problems need word answers,” and though I’m always willing to oblige a similar reciprocation in the case of the silly question, I think operating in the perfect, Platonic world of ideas is damn fine for all my math problems. I like keeping my math and my cutting prose separate, thank you.

Seriously, math class is time you need to practice, crunch numbers, get the concepts down, not time to indulge the teacher in romantic educational fantasies. If Mei Lin needs to plant a flower garden and wants to find its perimeter, I’ll assume that, as a corporeal being, she can figure it out her own damn self. Time I spend unwinding word problems is time wasted! And if teachers can’t read my scribbles–a mere half-fulfillment of the hallowed principle of “show your work”–they can screw themselves. I’m here to do math, not write feature articles on the process.

I once had a math teacher who had us keep a “math journal” outlining what we’re learning! We got points for laying it out nicely and…. GAAAH! I can’t take it any more!

Math teachers need to love math! If you don’t love math, don’t teach it! End of story! Goodbye!


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