Tuesday, April 03, 2012

It figures

Or perhaps it doesn't

I'm still disappointed when it occurs, but I'm no longer surprised. Sometimes, such as when I give an exam on the last day before spring break, I send out a grade update via e-mail so that my students don't have to wait till school resumes to find out their status in the class. My report, which pops up in student e-mail, presents the latest grade distribution in descending order. The closer to the top you find your secret student ID number, the better off you are.

I also provide the weighted components that go into computing each semester score (and grade): homework, quizzes, and exams. I present averages rather than individual scores, and therein lies the rub. Students write back when they receive the grade report and ask, “What was my score on Exam 5?”

Let us consider this. What does the student have in hand?

The student has his average exam score: the grades on Exams 1 through 5 all added together and divided by 5. The student has his old exams, numbers 1 through 4.

How on earth is an algebra student supposed to figure out the unknown value of his score on Exam 5? It is a puzzlement, is it not? If only they had a better teacher, perhaps they could do it for themselves, but I'm afraid the classroom door is a portal to real life, beyond which nothing in the classroom has any relevance. It's not as though the stuff I teach them can actually be used for anything! (Not even for classroom-related applications!)

I recently responded to an inquiry from a student who was earning a B:
Didn’t you realize you could have computed it yourself? You have your average exam score from the grade distribution I sent out. Multiply your average exam score by 5 and then subtract your scores from Exams 1 through 4. What’s left is your Exam 5 score.
He gave me a cheery reply:
I should of know but thanks I'll make sure I put that in my notes.
I'm thinking of forwarding that to his English teacher.


Sili said...

Huddleston & Pullum? -->

Excellent choice in reading material.

Karen said...

It's the result of making math a part of your life or not... and I think this is lecture material, Zeno.

I initially chose a career that made math a part of my life (engineering). I was resistant at first; pulling solution mechanisms from my math toolbox was for on-the-job stuff, period. But then life and work developed an unhealthy lack of boundaries, and at some point I started to see what I can only describe as the Dance Of The Numbers: math was part of my everyday life. But it took an embarrassingly long time before that happened.

Zeno, if you don't already, you owe it to your students to emphasize that the math they're learning from you can affect all sorts of things in their lives. They need to not relegate it to "a class I have to pass" but embrace it as a skillset that makes a lot of life decisions a whole lot simpler.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if you didnt abandon the site for 6 weeks between posts you would have more than 2 comments.

Just sayin'

Zeno said...

Been busy. Just saying'.

And, in fact, I have have three comments here. Wait a minute: actually four.