Monday, April 20, 2009

College Freshmen Still Struggle with Basic Algebra

I found this on another web group on math. It quotes an article from the campus newspaper at Oregon State University, the premier state "tech", known for its strong engineering department. Now, you need to realize that this is a student run paper, with a staff made up entirely of students. Even they are now sensing that something is fishy. Maybe they are not so naive as we think. Another thing to note is that Math 111 is college algebra, which is a remedial math course, about the same level as a rigorous high school Algebra 2 course, for those who do not pass the college math placement test. Here is the headline:

"Math 111 continues to be slippery slope for OSU students
Problems with Math 111 are believed to stem from students' inadequate grade school teaching in math"

The article goes on to say "Math 111 has been rumored throughout campus to be one of the most failed classes at Oregon State. Many students go into class with that expectation."
and an observation from a freshman math professor "After 10 years of teaching the course, Argyres said he felt that many students go into the course feeling they can just memorize things, but he said it's really all about understanding concepts. He said he feels that this issue originates in elementary school." "When students never learned the basic information appropriately in high school, or earlier, it is significantly more difficult for them to succeed when they get to college algebra."

I was aware that the school district that my kids attended in Oregon used "Mathland" for elementary schools in the early 2000's, and switched to "Investigations" around 2005. Now they are moving to "Everyday Math". In other words, they have hopped from one reform curriculum to another, without really making a substantial move towards what I consider real math. Here is a quote from the OSU professor which pretty much sums it up:

"Mathematics is densely a foreign language with a foreign spelling routine with all these different symbols," Argyres said. "Part of [understanding the language] is understanding what we mean by the symbols."

Read the full article here:

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