Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Learning arithmetic

I have been helping an acquaintance with her pre-calculus homework. A few days ago, she seemed to be having trouble with trig functions. As it turned out her problems were what you might find the normal student having with new concepts.

However, she did have a deep and more fundamental problem. She was confused about taking the reciprocal of a fraction. She told me she had skipped taking algebra. Studying pre-calculus without the prerequisite algebra course seems daunting to me.

As I recall from my school days, we were conversant with taking the reciprocal of fractions no later than the sixth, seventh, or eighth grades.

About twenty years ago, I was writing a program for a marketing brand manager. The brand manager kept disputing my test results even though I knew them impeccable. As it turns out, the brand manager did not know which direction to move the decimal point on a number when converting it to a percentage. This person had an MBA from one of the top ranked business schools in the United States.

I never used most of the mathematics I learned in school during my career. Most of what I used I had learned by the eighth grade. For that, I am very thankful. I wish the same for our current generation of students.

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