Archive for July, 2010

It’s A Math, Math World (Communication Skills II)

From various conversations I have had with industry professionals and college professors, I have been told, overwhelmingly, that good, solid communication skills are the most important skills in the mathematical sciences. These include a good grasp of the English language (in most countries) and the ability to clearly explain complex and sometimes abstract topics in concrete terms. Yet, these skills are often lacking in my observations of today’s students in mathematics and statistics.

As stated above, these problems can be categorized into 2 groups:

  1. Insufficient written/oral communication skills (see blog dated 07/18/10).
  2. Inability to explain complex and abstract concepts adequately (which we will cover today).

This week, we will look at the inability of some mathematicians/scientists to adequately explain abstract or complex ideas. I think this boils down to some flaws in our education system:

  1. Math has been”dumbed-down” so that graphing calculators replace logic and work. Students miss the ability to think logically as in the study of geometry. I have tutored math since 1991 and I have had students who can plug in numbers into a calculator and work all the fancy functions, yet can’t explain why a process works or explain their answer in context. They can’t explain their answer and what it means. That is why I love the 2-column proofs in Geometry class that most of my students dread. These problems force you to reason and think logically. There is something to be said for going through a problem manually and writing each step down, including the formulas. It helps one learn faster and organize their work.
  2. Also, there was, in some schools, an acceptance of what is known as “fuzzy math” for basic math answers. For example, students in some New York City schools were told, as long as they got approximately the correct answer on an arithmetic test, that was sufficient and they would get credit. I believe in partial credit in more advanced classes since anyone can make basic math errors on tough tests, but if the test is concerning ARITHMETIC, the answer is supposed to be CORRECT! You have to master the basics before you can move onto the harder material. I have seen HS students who can’t do 7 x 8 without a calculator. That is pathetic!
  3. “There is a shortage of math and science teachers”, we are always told. I can go one step further…..there is a shortage of COMPETANT math and science teachers. For example, in some schools, teachers are teaching math and science who are not certified in that topic.  This is a huge mistake. We should insist that teachers of advanced topics be certified in that topic! Also, there are just too may teachers that are not passionate about what subject they are teaching and trust me, a student will pick up on this immediately! I could get into a huge dissertation on weaknesses in the education system (i.e. tenure, lack of merit pay, acceptance of mediocrity, etc.), but I will leave this part for your comments.

        A couple of observations from my past education in HS math classes:

  •  I can point to a great teacher I had in HS for geometry. He went to a military school for 4 years as a teenager and was extremely sharp and disciplined.  He told us one day 1 of class that he expected us to know all of our definitions and theorems or we would likely fail his class! He drove us to dig deep within ourselves and work hard, yet he was tough but fair. He helped me develop my drive to be a mathematician and statistician and made me disciplined in my approach to learning new concepts. He was one of my favorite teachers of all time.
  • Also, when I went to high school, students only required 1 year of Math to graduate, but you were required to have 4 years of Physical Education. A guess a healthy body trumped a sharp mind! If you were going to college, you needed 4 years of math. Math helps you problem solve and think about the world. In my opinion, everyone should study math or math-related science classes for 4 years in high school.

Some questions to ponder:

  1. In general, do you agree that math has been “dumbed-down” by the schools and by the use of  graphing calculators, “fuzzy math”, etc.? Why or why not?
  2. To reward the most motivated and gifted teachers, should merit pay be instituted? Why or why not?
  3. To “weed- out” the inefficient teachers, should tenure be abolished? Why or why not?
  4. Do you agree that everyone should have a strong understanding (3-4 years) of HS math or math-based applications to help their reasoning abilities? Why or why not?

I look forward to your comments and to a lively discussion. Thank you.

Like what you read? Get blogs delivered right to your inbox as I post them so you can start standing out in your job and career. There is not a better way to learn or review college level stats topics than by reading, It’s A Math, Math World 

It’s A Math, Math World (Communication Skills I)

Welcome to the new math and stats blog titled “It’s a Math, Math World”. I plan to bring you new and exciting news and views regarding the world of math and statistics at least once a week. I will bring you mostly (I hope) some original content from my years as an undergrad math student and a graduate statistics student.

From various conversations I have had with industry professionals and college professors, I have been told, overwhelmingly, that good, solid communication skills are the most important skills in the mathematical sciences. These include a good grasp of the English language (in most countries) and the ability to clearly explain complex and sometimes abstract topics in concrete terms. Yet, these skills are often lacking in my observations of today’s students in mathematics and statistics.

As stated above, these problems can be categorized into 2 groups:

  1. Insufficient written/oral communication skills (which we will cover today),
  2. inability to explain complex and abstract concepts adequately (which will be covered in part 2 of this blog next week)

When we consider insufficient written/oral communication skills, we will look at 3 issues.

  1. The first reason is that, at least in the United States, a large portion of the mathematics and science students in university settings are foreign born and have English as a second language. Thus, some struggle in their written and verbal communication skills with English. For example, when I was at Rutgers a few years ago, I was a member of as team for a group project. Of the 6 of us, I was one of 2 people whose primary language was English. The project involved writing some computer code using the R language to analyze some US Census data and writing a report afterwards. To expedite the work flow, I suggested that if the others in the group worked on getting the R code written and running without bugs, then I would write the report. The rest of the group agreed.  Afterwards, I sent the 24+ page manuscript out (by email) for editing suggestions from the group. I tried to please everyone in the group to the best of my ability and we ended up scoring in the 90’s for our grade.
  2. Another reason is the relaxing of the rules of grammar in our casual conversation which carries over into our more formal conversation. This “colloquial diction” is a combination of slang, street talk and just lazy grammar. Add to that the horrible grammar used in email and texting which carries over into formal communication, and we have a horrible result. If you watch news interviews or god forbid, daytime TV discussions, where younger people are asked to tell a story and give an opinion, you can notice that their grammar is deplorable. Some people make up their own words. And with texting, people are going to be talking in “text shorthand” someday in real life conversation.
  3. The third reason is the lowering of academic standards in our public schools. An emphasis is not placed on writing skills anymore. Some school districts won’t even grade papers with a red pen anymore because it is too “traumatic” to the child. When I was in the 6th grade, we had a creative writing assignment to complete every week or so. I had a teacher in junior high school who was an English grammar fanatic. He would scour every word and sentence you wrote and forced me to write clearly and accurately. He was a great teacher and I thank him to this day.

Also, starting in 8th grade, we had to start writing critiques of books and simple analyses of stories we had read. This continued on through HS. When I got to college, I could write a coherent paper with well-supported ideas. From what I read in the news, that is not the rule anymore. A lot of colleges have to offer remedial work to incoming freshmen to bring them up to speed.

I know this topic is not very “math-heavy” as future posts will be, but I bring up some good points.

  • How do we increase the written and oral communication skills of our young mathematicians and scientists?
  • How do we emphasize strong coherent writing techniques in school?
  • How do we do the above with shrinking education resources and political obstacles in the education system?

I look forward to your feedback. Have a good week. Part 2 will be posted next week.

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It’s A Math, Math World (Intro and Poll Results)

Welcome to the new math and stats blog titled, It’s A Math, Math World. I plan to bring you new and exciting news and views regarding the world of math and statistics at least once a week. I will bring you mostly (I hope) some original content from my years of experience as an undergraduate math student and as a graduate statistics student.

I recently posted a survey on th web which asked people what they would like a new math blog topic to be. The link to the results is:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/sr.aspx?sm=Zkkar_2fOXvj8mqJYsnG3lDX1A_2fkHUgQ96lGnf_2b_2f73oaw_3d

Below is a link to the survey.

. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TV7VF3Y

An overwhelming number wanted the topics to be

1) statistical applications and programming

2) clarification & analysis of common math issues

3) general topics such as preparation for  a career in math/stats, educational topics, etc.

4) The write-in candidates requested my looking at counter-intuitive math findings, tutorials on newer concepts, and looking at modern applications and misuses of math/stats in modern life.

I wil try to touch on a few of these areas and see in which direction I proceed. Look for my first 2-part blog post regarding “Communication Skills and the Mathematical Sciences” in the next few days.

Like what you read? Get blogs delivered right to your inbox as I post them so you can start standing out in your job and career. There is not a better way to learn or review college level stats topics than by reading, It’s A Math, Math World