Random nonsense

Posted on April 7, 2014


Just another example of “real world” word problems that have nothing to do with the real world, and are actually and obviously convoluted wrappings of algebra in words.   

I fully understand the value of making the connection between linear equations and real world situations. 

However, this one leaves students cold and nauseous. Been too busy for the screen capture I snapped at 9:15 to have survived… but we’re told that X units of something cost Y dollars, A units cost B dollars and we’re supposed to figure out what C units cost… with a few extraneous words in there just to add to the delight. 

The y-intercept to the equation generated is negative. 

It is a little hard to make this “make sense” to students who know full well that you don’t get a *discount* on your heating bill (so they don’t charge you for the first U units)… as if that would actually make sense anyway.   

If I already fully understand linear relationships, this is easy. 

Guess what?   If I don’t, it’s not. 

Moreover, it doesn’t clarify the relationship.   It sends that message we so long to send:  that this is complicated, convoluted and you should just try to get the answer, because understanding it is for people smarter than you.   

Oh, of course, it could be that I’m just not making that connection clear enough — but actually, they’re supposed to be able to make that connection by hitting “explain.”   The “explanation” has them calculate the slope and then apply that to the points in question, which about one student in three understands on the problems that, by whatever random numbers are generated, are easier to visualize.   

Oh, but the students end up figuring it out, so it must be succeeding, right?   In the words of a student who got all her ALEKS but a 55 on the test:   when she does ALEKS, she has examples that are exactly the same.   She plugs the numbers into the same places and gets the answer.   She has no idea why.  (I’m not her teacher, but that’s what she told that teacher. Her lips indirectly to my ears… yea, that’s what I thought was happening.) 

Let me be sure to mention that there is much of ALEKS that I like.   The sequence makes sense and lots of the problems do.  I just don’t like when it reinforces the worst of what students experience in math, and it absolutely doesn’t work well as a “stand-alone” for students who need to develop concepts. 


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