## Tuesday, September 01, 2009

### Sample 1: Elementary Inanity

OK, my son brought home an example of the inanity of some assignments. He has just started the fourth grade. Mind you, the assignment isn't all bad, but here is my story:
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Look Back and Check

Waterfalls Four famous waterfalls have different heights. Ruacana Falls in Angola is 406 ft high, Victoria Falls in Zambia is 343 ft high, Wentworth Falls in Australia is 614 ft high, and Akaka Falls in Hawaii is 442 ft high. What is the order of these waterfalls from the least to the greatest height?

commentary: a fair question. Now we move to the chart to the right:
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William
Waterfalls Height
Wentworth Falls 614
Akaka Falls 442
Ruacana Falls 406
Victoria Falls 343

The order of the waterfalls is Wentworth Falls, Akaka Falls, Ruacana Falls, and Victoria Falls.

commentary: OK, William has done it wrong. Fine. Ask my son if William has answered correctly. Even ask him what William has done wrong. Ask him what the right order is. Now here is the sequence of questions they do ask:
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1. Did William answer the right question?
commentary: No, I don't think he did. I think I'm good so far. I was expecting that one.

2. Did William's work match the information in the problem?
commentary: OK, that one threw me off a bit. What are they asking my son? OK, they mean did he mess up any of the numbers or mismatch them in his chart. OK, I think they're looking for yes. Yes, the information was ok. It's just that William didn't answer the right question.

Maybe that's a useful skill to teach him?

3. Did William use a correct procedure?
commentary: Now what in Sam hill is that question asking? William drew a chart. I suppose that's ok. Do they want him to put yes? He did the right procedure for the wrong question? Or are they asking whether he did it right? This question sounds an aweful lot like the first question. I have a PhD and I don't know what in the world they are asking him here!!! I bet my son and I are going to get that one wrong.

commentary: What? Are they asking him if it is a logically valid answer but just not the right one? I suppose William is being completely rational. He's just wrong. So, is that a yes? William's answer is reasonable?

I can't stand this stuff. William answered the problem wrong. He put them from greatest to least instead of from least to greatest like the question asked. My son and I can answer the question correctly. But I bet we're going to get a 75% on this one because neither of us is apparently very bright.

Dave Smith said...

Ken,
Welcome to the joy of returning to school a second time; with your childtren. Especially after all the educational innovations since your first time through. Another heart-warming thought is that you get to do this again with Sophie!

Ken Schenck said...

At least Stefanie has stopped asking for help with homework... except when she wants to use my typing speed. But I did "enjoy" trying to figure out the domain and range of various functions with Stacy on Monday :-)

Brian Russell said...

Move back to your home state of Florida, Ken. Then you'll really encounter truly "cutting edge" pedagogical nitwitery.

Cora White said...

Oh boy the fun i have to look forward to. Thank God the older is onto real math like Algebra 2 which i can help with.

I shudder to imagine how bad it will be when my 2 month old enters school.

Burton Webb said...

Don't let Gail Greene see this post. She derides this kind of teaching all the time.

Keith Drury said...

hee hee hee.... from a student's perspective (and a parent's) many assignments (including my own) nsometimes seem crazy.... it is a dangerous thing to let educators write textbooks!