Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Commentary On The Teaching Of Mathematics

I just had to share with you this piece: A Commentary on the Teaching of Mathematics, by James Jackson of Carlisle, Ind. It appeared in "Echoes" (winter 1994), published by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Ind. "Echoes" took it from the 1993-94 issue of "21st Century" (not otherwise identified).

The commentary takes the form of a series of story problems:

In 1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of this price. What is his profit?

In 1970: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of this price, or $80. What is his profit?

In 1970 (new math): A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100, and each element is worth $1.00. Make 100 dots representing the elements of the set M. The set C of the costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M. Represent the set C as a subset of M, and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set P of points?

In 1980: A logger sells a truckload of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80, and his profit is $20. Your assignment: underline the number 20.

In 1990 (outcome-based education): By cutting down beautiful forest trees, a logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? (Topic for class participation: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?)

In 1996: (profit-driven education): By laying off 40% of the its loggers, a company improves its stock price from $80 to $100. How much capital gain per share does the CEO make by exercising his stock options at $80? Assume capital gains are no longer taxed, because Republicans feel this encourages investment.

In 1997: A company out-sources all of its loggers. The firm saves on benefits, and when demand for its product is down, the logging work force can easily be cut back. The average logger employed by the company earned $50,000, had three weeks vacation, a nice retirement plan and medical insurance. The contracted logger charges $50 an hour. Was out-sourcing a good move?

In 1998: A laid-off logger with four kids at home and a ridiculous alimony from his first failed marriage comes into the logging company's corporate offices and goes postal, mowing down 16 executives and a couple of secretaries, and gets lucky when he nails a politician on the premises collecting his kickback. Was outsourcing the loggers a good move for the company?

In 1999: A laid-off logger serving time in Folsom for blowing away several people is being trained as a COBOL programmer in order to work on Y2K projects. What is the probability that the automatic cell doors will open on their own as of 00:01, 01/01/00?

In 2000: (internet in every classroom) Do a web search on forest, trees and logger using two different search engines. E-mail your results to the teacher.

In 2008: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is four-fifths of this price. What is his profit? First, tell us what your strategy will be to solve the problem. Form a hypothesis based on the rubric to test your strategy. Perform a calculation based on your hypothesis, and then discuss why you came to the answer that you arrived at.

It would be funny if it weren't so true!

(H/T Mike A.) More math humor here.


acceptancewithjoy said...

This will be a sad comment. When I was teaching nursing, the nurses at a nearby Community College complained about the math instructor who taught remedial "Math for Nurses." As part of the solution, the course was moved from the math department to the nursing department. I was given the job!

So, 4 times a weeks I taught adults to set up proportions to solve for an unknown value. You know the doctor has ordered 100 mg of a drug, the drug comes in solution that contains 250mg/ml, how many ml do you need to give?

Not exactly rocket science. My daughter was in fifth grade... in special ed math. I was teaching college kids the EXACT same thing Marissa and I worked on for her homework! said...

Ouch, the 70's one hurt, all to familiar. Victim of new math I was.

Seriously with all the emphasis on competing in the global economy, I was shocked that math was not being emphasized this year for my 2nd grader. So we emphasize it had home.

We run a school after school.

My favorite site is

On it you will find plain old math work sheets. said...

Emphasize it at home, at home.

Not "had home".

Where did I go to shcool?

Eric Holcombe said...

Some pretty good prognostication from 1994....

Irdial said...

Have you seen the film Idiocracy?

It is all happening, right down to the infrastructure falling to pieces!

christinemm said...

I once blogged about poor math skills in recent graduates, and a nurse left a comment that the nursing students doing their internship didn't know the difference between the metric system and the regular. She had to teach them about cc's and such after overhearing one tell the other to just ignore the cc and use an English measurement instead. It was crazy too that the subject had not been covered in nursing school.

Regarding the 2008 math. I would have added to do an estimation then to only use a calculator to find the answer.

Sheri said...

I agree with Christinemm, the calculator certainly would have been used in current math.

Thanks for sharing. :)
I *love* it!