My good friend tells me to go fishing, the volunteer on site – who is creating a new hiking track – tells me to go fishing and something tells me that more than a few of the good people who read this blog want me to go fishing as well. The bad news is that I wasn’t fishing and have nothing to write about in this respect.
Today was a great day. One of the students whom I tutor in maths showed up being prepared and did well. It is a great feeling to see young ones understand maths and science, and I feel the opposite when they are frustrated because they “don’t get it”.
Lately, I wonder what our every-day-life would be like if half of the secondary school graduates didn’t know half of the alphabet. How would we converse and get through life? It might appear as a bizarre scenario; how often do you hear a person saying that they are not good in English, writing or reading, because they never understood a big portion of the alphabet?
Now compare that to how often you hear people saying that they are hopeless in maths.
Here are a few examples of basic arithmetic and algebra that a lot of people I talk to find challenging to get right:
- 2+2×2 =
- -2^2 =
- 5/0 =
- 2^(-1) =
(‘x’ means multiply by, ‘^’ means to the power of)
I’ll never forget the lady I worked with for 7 years supervising a chemistry lab course at one of the many best New Zealand universities. She was the supervisor, I was an assistant. Every year when she gave a lecture about pH, it occurred to me that she wasn’t able to explain what a logarithm is. At times she mentioned that pH is a unit (which it is not, and another sign that she didn’t understand the concept of a logarithm) and never really cared to look up what this abbreviation stands for. I learned (never checked it myself) many moons ago that it stands for pondus Hydrogenii.
A simple definition of pH for most day use is: the negative, decadic logarithm of the H+ concentration.
I challenged her repeatedly to find the solution for X for 2^X=7, in the hope of providing her with the right tools to explain what logarithms are (the basis of a pH). She never showed me how to solve for X in this equation, but showed up once with a smug smile, telling me: “Oh Ben, this is a trick question, there is no logarithm button on the calculator with the basis 2.”
More evidence that she didn’t understand the concept of a logarithm. I was shocked and frankly still am.
And this leads me to a conclusion that has nothing to do with the title of this post: the reason why basic arithmetic and algebra is far beyond the capacity of too many (who have finished school) is that their teachers most likely didn’t understand the concepts and the particulars of what they were teaching either.
In the following, photos from last week. You can check them and others out in higher resolution on my photography website (http://www.images.benisland.com).