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Math by The Plug and Chug

   Math By The Plug and Chug Method

Many school students learn to do math by what I call the “plug and chug” method, where they mechanically perform calculations without really understanding what they are doing.    I formed this opinion based on my interaction with hundreds of college students, many of whom did not understand basic algebraic concepts.   While such a  mechanical approach might get many students  through state mandated standardized tests,   they are functionally “illiterate” when it comes to applying basic math to real life situations.  I provide two examples of this problem:  one, a personal experience involving  a 7th grader, and the other, rather shocking, involving a highly paid expert witness.

 Late last December, to test if a  7th grader understood percentages, I asked him this question: How many dollars will you have to give me, if you have $200 and you owe me 12% of that amount?  He could not answer that because he did not understand the concept that percentage is based on 100.  So, 6% means 6 every 100, to be proportionally adjusted for numbers smaller and larger than 100. For example, 6% of 50 and 200 would be 3 and 24 (oops, 12, thanks to a sharp-eyed reader) respectively (no calculator is needed).

Next, I asked him the same question amenable to the “plug and chug” method: Calculate 12% of $200. Using his calculator, he mechanically converted 12% in his mind to 0.12,  and multiplied it with 200 to give the correct answer of $24.

 The second example deals with an accident reconstruction expert who has trouble converting fractions to decimals. Given that the scaling factor   is 20 feet to an inch, he just could not convert 3 and 3 /16 inches  to the corresponding length in feet, using a calculator.   He kept saying that he needed formula sheets to do this straightforward calculation.

These examples emphasize the dire need to explain fundamental mathematical concepts, especially  early in students’ educational training.   Math teachers everywhere, please take note.

 

Clowning with a cartoonist

I had the pleasure of meeting of Kevin Kallauger at the 2013 Baltimore Book Festival.  He was then a political cartoonist for The Economist; previously he had worked for the Baltimore Sun.

Trump vulgarity outranks news headlines over science and medical breakthroughs

Serious news stories are dying in large numbers on the battlefield of TV ratings.  And what is even sadder is that even when they do get on the “network” bus, they have to sit at the back.  December 22, 2015 was a  real bad day for them, perhaps the baddest so far in their history.

That day,  the six-headline segment of  the NBC Nightly News opened with Mr. Donald Trump’s speculations on Mrs. Hillary Clinton’s bathroom habits.   The forth story was about a “stunning accomplishment”  in the field of space research, an achievement that has the potential to reduce 100-fold cost of  space travel. The fifth story was about a “revolutionary” life-saving cancer treatment.  If you are wondering,  the second, third and sixth items dealt with the unusually warm winter weather so far,  last minute travel risks and a cute Santa helper story.

By the way, have fun convincing your teenager to take seriously STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death by Lethal Injection

It is time to ban execution by lethal injection!

Powerful anesthetics used in the past as part of the lethal injection protocol no longer available in the US.  Therefore,  the  milder sedative drug called midazolam was  initially used  to anesthetize the inmate, before injecting the heart stopping drug.  If the inmate is not adequately anesthetized, the heart stopping drug causes excruciating pain.   As noted in the cited article, this drug  “played a part in three long and apparently painful executions last year. It was used in an effort to render inmates unconscious before they were injected with other drugs that cause severe pain.”  The Supreme Court was split 5-4 in its recent decision to allow the use of midozolam as part of the lethal injection cocktail.  Justice Breyer even wondered if the process is  constitutional given the strong potential for severe pain , since  “cruel and unusual punishment”  is prohibited. I hope the Supremes will soon revisit this matter.

So, finally we are back to being . . .

free and brave?

So, what’s next?

The people have opted to trust the GOP.   I hope it works!  Let us hope that the next two years result in  meaningful reforms with respect to tax( e.g.  billionaire hedge fund managers now pay a ridiculous  tax rate of 15%) and immigration (e.g., dream act)  fairness.