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Re: [Phys-l] Ca mandates 8th-grade algebra test

The majority of kids that I know of that age can pick up almost any complicated electronic device (camera, phone, etc.) and wring all kinds of performance out of it in a very brief time. They do grasp the abstract. They do get algorithms. As Trevor has said, we have to recognize their talents. Everyone on this list lauds evolutionary theory over creationism. Yet somehow many have become convinced that all these kids have lost the intelligence we had at their age in just a few generations. NCLB is not the bogeyman here. The schools producing illiterate and innumerate graduates (like here in Providence with a phenomenal drop out rate) are the problem. If you don't expect anything - that's what you'll get.

Bob at PC


From: on behalf of Harris, Bryan
Sent: Thu 7/10/2008 9:29 PM
To: Forum for Physics Educators
Subject: Re: [Phys-l] Ca mandates 8th-grade algebra test

In addition to teaching higher level physics in high school, I also teach a few sections of eighth grade physical science each year. I have found that while some of the kids I have can handle the limited algebra that is presented in this course, many of them (usually over half) really struggle, even with basic three variable equations. The majority of eighth graders are not at a point developmentally where they can grasp the abstract concepts in algebra. This not to say that they can't or won't eventually, but at that age they are not all prepared for the material. When you try to teach kids material before they are ready for it, or before they can handle it you generally just end up frustrating them and turning them off to the subject. Just my two cents.



From: on behalf of Trevor Fink
Sent: Thu 7/10/2008 8:51 PM
To: Forum for Physics Educators
Subject: Re: [Phys-l] Ca mandates 8th-grade algebra test

I think that this testing is good but maybe with a different end. I think
some kids are going to get it and love it and they should be given every
opportunity. Others don't get it and don't want to get it...that's too bad,
but probably true. I wish that there was a more rigorous screening process
to find the gifted students early and teach them accordingly. I remember
sitting in math classes and doing poorly in them because I was so bored. I
had no idea that I had an aptitude for math until I was almost out of high
school...I just figured that everyone thought the way I did and my average
grades confirmed my unfounded suspicions, I was average and probably
shouldn't pursue higher courses. Thus I left high school with Trig and
nothing more. Not to put personal shortcomings on to the shoulders of
others, but if just one of my teachers had noticed and told me that they
believed I could do it, I would have completed far more advanced classes.
Yeah, I probably should have known myself and done it myself, but that
wasn't where I was at the age of 13, I needed someone to tell me where I
belonged. The point of this now tedious prose is that I would like to see
screening done to find gifted students and nurture that; not testing to hold
people back, rather, testing to put them exactly where they will be
challenged and learn to their capacity. I know it could be argued that this
would offer unequal education and may be seen as holding some back from
greater things, and that would have to be addressed. I think the greater
tragedy is letting what must total hundreds of thousands of IQ points slide
through our education system untended to. It is almost like someone being
plopped into the middle of a factory with all the tools and materials to
start manufacturing cars, except nobody told them what a car was or what it
did...they don't even know what one would look like. So they sit in this
nice factory, that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been dropped
into, and they play with stuff. They would like to produce something but
they're just not sure what they should be producing so they try to figure
something out on their own. Maybe eventually they figure out how to make a
piston or a transmission, and they would probably be fine with that because
they wouldn't have known that they had the potential for so much more. NCLB
is great and all, but why not have something like No Child Left Unnoticed?
Maybe its not plausible, I don't really know, just something that crossed my

Thanks for sticking with me through that...I just realized how long it was.
I know the manufacturing analogy is somewhat loose. You could pick it apart
if you like or just take it for what I meant it as; some people are born
with great potential and others very little or moderate. Those with great
potential need to be helped to make that potential constructive and they
require more instruction than those without to do so.

On 7/10/08 6:56 PM, "Robert Yeend" <> wrote:

In response to John's excellent point about what is meant by "8th
grade algebra," the following are the five questions presented as
examples in today's SF Chronicle:

1. Two airplanes left the same airport traveling in opposite
directions. If one airplane averages 400 miles per hour and the other
airplane averages 250 miles per hour, in how many hours will the
distance between the two planes be 1625 miles?

2. What is the solution set of the inequality 5 ­ |x + 4| < ­3 ?

3. What is the y-intercept of the graph of 4x + 2y = 12 ?

4. What is (x2 ­ 4 xy + y2) / ( 3xy ­ 6y2) reduced to lowest terms?
(This is expressed as a fraction without the parentheses.)

5. The square root of 16 plus the cube root of 8 equals? (This was
expressed in symbols.)

All five were multiple choice questions with four candidate responses.

On Jul 10, 2008, at 4:12 PM, John Denker wrote:

On 07/10/2008 02:52 PM, LaMontagne, Bob wrote:
Is that, then, an argument for keeping music out of grade schools -
because some students will never be good at it? Why does that
argument only apply to math?

Please look at the Subject: line.

The main problem is not the 8th grade algebra course. The big problem
is that the _STATE_ is _MANDATING_ a _TEST_ on the subject.


Actually there is another slight problem with any discussion of
8th grade algebra: I have no idea what "8th grade algebra" means.
As Mark Shapiro has clearly pointed out, there are some students
who "get" some parts of the subject, and other students who don't.
As for the students who don't: remember the proverb: You can't
make a flower grow faster by pulling on it.

Does "algebra" mean one linear equation in one unknown? You can
easily teach that to most 5th graders. Or does "algebra" mean
_Algebra_ by Hungerford? I know lots of adult professional physicists
who can't handle Hungerford.

Of course this instantly brings us back around to the real problem,
because the state test will -- for better or worse -- implicitly
*define* what 8th grade algebra means. Until we see the test, though,
none of us has much idea what we're talking about.

Tolerating a certain amount of person-to-person variability used to be
the cornerstone of politeness. Now it's illegal.
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