*I've been working for the past 15 months on repairing my rusty math skills, ever since I read a biography of Johnny von Neumann. I've read a huge stack of math books, and I have an even bigger stack of unread math books. And it's starting to come together. Let me tell you about it,"*writes programmer Steve Yegge.

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Humans are animals. We touch things. Doing basic math by hand is better for the same reason it is more njoyable to read from a piece of paper: it's physically there. All of it. Our full analytical and creative attention can be focused on something physical.

I did get to use calculators in math...and have begun to re-teach myself old basics, and have even learned some **very** simple things on my own that I didn't get before*. Calculators have a place, but it is not to replace the ability of the human mind.

* when you wonder why our maths suck, take this: I'm 22. It was only last year, during **Calculus**, that I figured out the relationship between a remainder, a fractional component, and decimal approximation (and parents wonder their kids have trouble learning fractions...). There is now no depth to which I will not believe the U.S. school system as a whole needs help . It's something as simple as the sound as one hand clapping; but with so much emphasis on rote (serial, analytical), narrow-minded training, rather than abstract, spatial (parallel, creative) thinking, it did not require attention until an abstract view was forced.

** when you wonder why our maths suck, take this: I'm 22. It was only last year, during Calculus, that I figured out the relationship between a remainder, a fractional component, and decimal approximation (and parents wonder their kids have trouble learning fractions...).*

I'm certain that material was taught to you many, many times before, but for various reasons you never made the connection, perhaps because you never had to -- and if a teacher had given you a problem where you had to, your parents would have raised a fit, or if not yours, then someone else's parents would have, because their child didn't have time after football practice to do math homework every day. (This happened to me when I was a high school math teacher.)

It isn't just math, though. In pretty much any course in a US school, students are not required to do anything more than a very low level of thinking. One- or two-step problems are the extent of it.

In all fairness, many non-US schools separate students into different levels. I was talking with some German professors about this earlier in the week; they pointed out that their "high school" students are a small percentage of the total student population, because many students opt for vocational schools instead. US high schools have to accomodate the lowest common denominator in American culture, as well as our best and brightest.

Member since:

2006-01-10

Well, I just had to comment on this as I'm doing some education courses and have been teaching in schools.

Now, I know as the author does that long division may be 'useless'. But removing that 'tedium' by giving kids calculators hasn't helped anything, I'll tell you that. They have no more applicable knowledge. They can't solve problems any better. They can't estimate any better. In fact, the only difference I've seen with the increased use in calculators is a grade 8 student answers 6x3 with 14. Oh, they're trying all sorts of ways to teach kids math: manipulatives, overviews, computer programs... and yet the kids with the most insight still tend to be the old school kids who CAN do math by hand.

Perhaps there is something to doing math by hand that gives you insight into numbers. Now don't get me wrong, you won't catch me doing complex problems by hand anymore: mathcad, excel, matlab all the way , but somehow I think doing math by hand gives a certain insight into numbers that kids aren't getting today. Maybe they just need to be taught the calculator better?