Wednesday, November 28

Soft Courses, Hard Courses and 'Fuzzy Math'

When I was in school taking graduate courses to get my MBA, we had two basic types of courses:
  • Hard Courses - Courses where there are definitive right and wrong answers.
  • Soft Courses - Subjective courses where there is not always a definitive answer.
The men tended to prefer the hard courses and the women the soft courses. The hard courses were mastered by learning (and memorizing) the rules and formulas needed to find the one right solution. Maybe the men preferred that because it was clear what was needed and you either got the problem right or you did not. And if you failed to correctly solve the problem, you could at least see what you did wrong.

The women tended to shy away from the hard classes. Perhaps this was because our first course was Quantitative Mathematics. That's a difficult enough class in your native language, I can only imagine how difficult it was for those who use English as a second language. Many of my classmates dropped the class, opting to take it later.

The soft classes tended to drive the men nuts. Many of these classes included class participation as part of your grade. In general the quality of the discussion was not an issue, you just needed to participate. Have a case concerning how to increase demand for diapers, just suggest expanding into diapering animals at zoos. (Note: This was a real suggestion.) This was partly the result of some of my classmates hunting an 'A' in every class. Points for class participation were real important for them as it was infinitely more difficult to get an A without them. Sadly, these people had lots of idiotic ideas to keep their hands in the air, so that the instructor would remember that they participated. (Note II: One idea for a group project was a business plan for developing a disposable toilet brush. That group caught no end of hell for the idea. So imagine my horror the first time I saw an advertisement for one years later. And then a second one. Who knew? Guess they saw something the rest of us did not.)

Then we started a new class (Classes were 3 hours/day for three weeks.); 'Mergers, Takeovers and acquisitions.' Class participation would compose part of our grade. Right off the bat he started interacting with the class and the hands jumped up. The first comment was one of those soft responses which the instructor immediately replied:
"You don't get points just for opening your mouth. You have to tell me something I don't know." (or something like that.)
This teacher was from California of all places and he shocked over half the class with his statement. This is understandable given that 20 percent of the course grade was for 'class participation'. The other half of the class was silently appreciative of his declaration. Most of our other teachers were of the kind that wanted to foster discussion, any sort of discussion, and those who were striving for A's knew that they needed to throw out ideas, any idea. It did not matter how idiotic. But that was not going to work with this guy. He valued quality and was going to reward it, which was why class participation counted for so much.

Most of the hands raised in the air came down. Those hands never went up again, which was good as everything that was said from that point on was worth listening to, and we all learned lots in the end.

I decided to write about this after learning about a disease infecting our elementary schools: 'Fuzzy Math'. Math of course falls into the Hard Course category. Two plus two equals four in the world of math. Any other answer is wrong. I am surprised to learn that some people have a problem with this, and it is effecting how our children are taught.
Do you know what math curriculum your child is being taught? Are you worried that your third-grader hasn’t learned simple multiplication yet? Have you been befuddled by educational jargon such as “spiraling,” which is used to explain why your kid keeps bringing home the same insipid busywork of cutting, gluing and drawing? And are you alarmed by teachers who emphasize “self-confidence” over proficiency while their students fall further and further behind? Join the club. - Michelle Malkin
Go read the rest of the story to better understand how children are not learning math.
California, ever on the cutting edge of educational reforms, enthusiastically embraced Fuzzy Math in the early nineties only to watch state math scores plummet. In 1996, California registered one of the worst scores of all 50 states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. By the end of 1997, the State Board of Education realized its mistake and produced sensible standards that encouraged more traditional math instruction. Other states that experimented with Fuzzy Math have started to see the light as well. “The pendulum is swinging back to the more traditional approach to education,” says one administrator in Massachusetts. - CITY
Now there is surely a place for soft/fuzzy courses, however it is surely a bad move to turn hard courses into soft ones. We have a modern society that is build upon technology. For us to continue to advance this technology, we will need people who are competent in the science and math fields. And as we advance, each generation's children will have more to learn. It just not make sense to all of a sudden decide that children do not have to be proficient in the basics that will enable them to contribute in the future.

The sad thing is that the children exposed to this 'experiment' will have to live with this for the rest of their life. they should not have to do it lacking math skills.

One more side note: Some of my classmates were so concerned about their transcripts in that they demanded that the plus be removed from the A pluses that they earned. You see some of the instructors from the US assigned A Pluses, even though the highest official grade was an A. They thought that future employers would view the A's in a lower regard if their was a higher 'A+' on the transcript.

Fuzzy math: A nationwide epidemic - Michelle Malkin

No comments: