Can You Google? Congratulations, You Just Aced Algebra!

Posted on June 12, 2015  in  [ Criminal Justice, Government, and Public Administration ]

The hardest problem on a recent algebra exam was:

Factor 30x^2-69x-15

Many students were not able to find the correct answer. However, we can literally cut and paste the problem on a browser’s search box to find its solution (please try). Passing a college algebra course is as difficult as Googling! We don’t have Googling courses, why do we need algebra ones?

“Solving mathematical problems will give you the critical thinking capabilities to succeed in the workplace,” my old grumpy high school math teacher would answer, just before randomly picking me to solve a problem on the blackboard.

I have given that same explanation to my students followed by a cute example, such as how anybody can design the coolest building, but you need engineers to make it real.

I firmly believe in the role of math in the general education curriculum, but I am also aware that math courses are the main culprit for students dropping out of college or even failing to get into college.

Given these stakes, I do understand a student’s desire to take shortcuts via advanced calculators such as Mathway, PhotoMath, Tiger Algebra or Alpha. I also understand an instructor’s choice to ban these tools.

The outcome will consist of students performing extremely well on homework and similar non-proctored assignments, but then failing miserably on in-class exams.

This is not an acceptable result. What if we use these technologies to improve the significance of a math course to the student? There are many interesting and relevant problems that we cannot give to our learners because the necessary mathematical calculations are too difficult.

Except that now we can let the machine do the number crunching. The student would choose and set up the problem and then understand and interpret the results.

Less tedious math. More critical thinking.

Critical thinking skills are crucial throughout college courses and when earning a liberal arts degree. Learn more by visiting Grand Canyon University’s website.

Filippo Posta, Ph.D.

Filippo Posta comes from a little village near Siena, Tuscany in Italy. He always dreamed of playing professional soccer and going to America. The soccer thing did not pan out despite making as much as a half-million per week…in Italian liras (about $20 USD). Dr. Posta’s passion for teaching and doing research in math landed him a scholarship to study at NJIT. After graduating, he switched coasts and ended up at GCU (via UCLA). What a blessing!

Learn more about Filippo Posta, Ph.D.

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