Monday, May 16, 2016

Time is of the essence

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On January 22, 2015 I posted a blog about the FSA Mathematics Reference Sheets.
After thinking about the issue for over a year, it dawned on me that another part of the FSA reference sheets is just as insulting to students. That part contains the following:
Florida appears to have decided that expecting students to remember these bits of information is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. New York must have  thought differently, as none of the time conversions appear on its reference sheets.

It is fascinating when you compare the reference sheets from different states. Texas, for example, (see here) has no conversion facts on its reference sheets. None. At all.

What intrigues me is that each state is claiming to be aspiring to "higher standards." Are we raising standards when we no longer expect students to know that there are 60 minutes in an hour?  It's even more strange when we tell them, as fact, that 52 weeks is 1 year.  That is flat out wrong.

For clarification, 52 weeks is 364 days, and no year is 364 days in length. To obtain that fact, I had to know that 1 week is 7 days, which must be something Florida expects students to remember, as it is left out of their reference sheet.  When I was young I remember being told that there were "52 weeks IN a year" and also being told that it was not an exact match: 52 was as many as you get get without exceeding 1 year.  We were also told to use that piece of information only when estimating.

The current wave seems to look at remembering as unimportant and unnecessary. The "experts" tell us to "teach children how to think". 

Speaking of thinking...

The clip above is from the New York State reference sheets for high school math (see it here). The rectangles are mine. I used them to indicate the conversions that are expressed incorrectly.

Each of those conversions that are boxed are approximations expressed as if exact.  There is no side comment clarifying anything (such as "rounded to the nearest hundredth"). In the absence of a side comment, there are symbols commonly used that mean "approximately equal",  such as "≈".  Florida could have escaped detection by stating "52 weeks ≈ 1 year".

I do commend Ohio for proper use of "≈" on its reference sheets when stating a value for π. 

before i sign off on today's missive, I wish to encourage you to read Ben Johnson's blog post from early 2010. Read it and ask yourself if you would rather have a generation that remembered that an hour was sixty minutes, or a generation that has to look it up.

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