Monday, May 09, 2005

The End of the Age of Ignorance

I've turned in the grades this morning, and I'm almost done writing the letters (to students) that include words like "regret" and "unfortunately." Once I finish fielding the angry emails ("impossible"), we all shall get a reprieve from the innumerate hijinks that has recently filled this space.

You might think that I predict a three month grace period from this sort of tale. No, no, no. In my never-ending optimism about the next batch of students, I am predicting at least eight (possibly even 15) months free of the sort of arithmetic ignorance that has characterized many of the students that I've had this year.

(One more story? Oh, you're twisting my arm. On the final exam in the class for the pre-service teachers, one student called me over to answer a question. On the screen of her calculator it read:


The student points to the fraction 2/3 and asks me, "Is that the same as 3/4?")

You see, in the fall I will be teaching the HONORS section of gen-ed math, AND I will be teaching first-semester freshman calculus. Not business calculus. Not bio-calculus. Real, honest-to-goodness calculus. Out of Stewart. Quite possibly with epsilons and deltas. And guarded by a placement test severe enough to require the students to be able to compute proficiently with rational numbers and to have a reasonable grasp of algebra. Instead of having students that complain that it is unfair for me to expect them to know how to find the area of a rectangle, I will have students that complain that they already know the material because they learned it in high school.

Might they still do stupid things? Sure, but they will be entirely novel stupid things!