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Topic: How well US students prepare for science and engineering (Read 13 times) previous topic - next topic


I was part of the "alternate math" experiment generation. Over the course of 8 years we were taught math using 5 or 6 different proprietary systems that some politician dreamed up. One year, its all about studying and preparing us for this series of tests that we will have to pass in addition to our courses to graduate, then no mention of the tests ever again. We wasted an entire year being programmed to take a standardized test that never happened.

I made the mistake of taking one of those "College Algebra" courses, since it had been 2 years since I had taken a math course (opted for an internship in high school instead). What a waste of time. The only good part of the course was the look on the professor's face when she saw me frantically scribbling in my notebook, came over to help, and saw an entire page of handwritten Lisp psudo-code. The look of confusion on her face was priceless.

The little I did manage to pick up in my grade school education came from hardworking and involved teachers, that went outside the system to help us. There were very few of those.

College in the US is the new GED. Just a useless piece of paper that you need so the HR manager doesn't immediately toss your job application in the trash.
"Anyone who isn't confused really doesn't understand the situation."

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A lot of tax dollars are wasted on a few of the largest math courses we offer here, math 070 and math 072, and a math skill center. Some entered, I stressed "entered", college without knowing how to add. My students taught there before. It's a mess. Math 0xx are high school level math at best that have to be taught at college level at college prof. pay grade so students are prepared to do 100 level college stuff. Then when we let in unqualified (IMO) students to college at in-state rate, obliged by some law, tax payers find they are wasting money on these kids that only 50% of the actual cost and they take the same courses over and over. So about 2 extra years are spend on an average to graduate (6-year) and the two extra years are at least $10,000 money wasted per student that graduate here, which should be used to make high schools better supported and teach kids math needed for college. Not every HS graduate needs to enter college but those that do want to enter college should learn twice as much as required. Sometimes I find it ironic that a democratic country is doing worse in many area than a "communist" country. Democracy is not the solution to every single problem. It's the perfect solution when the question is asking for average opinions of well-informed voters. Of course a lot of times this averaging is a better compromise than one person decides all. But it takes no account of subject matter experts knowing better.


liudr:  In a classic picture of education, teachers create content to teach to students. It's hard work to create new content especially when someone has been on the job for a number of years. If Arduino as a platform (or something else) can help shift content creation partially to students (they have a lot of untapped brain cells), then this may change how teachers teach. One time I assigned an extra credit problem to my college students: to simulate cycloid motion, one of them created an android app. It was cool and correct. I have it on my phone. So every time I go over the same content, I show the app to my students as a demonstration. That student was not even a programmer. He got interested in app programming and my assignment gave him a goal and he achieved it. This is a lot better and easier on me than me trying to create one myself smiley

Believe or not, ed colleges like the one in my university, stress a lot more over pedagogy than content. Our ed grads fail content exam to a point that their parents are complaining to the ed professors that their kids aren't getting jobs. I get the same complaints from ed students I interacted with. Trust me, these science ed majors don't know enough science to teach science. That could be a reason teachers hang on to old content even wrong ones. My state is considered as top 4-5 in US science engineering preparedness for college but I simply don't see it. Graduation requirement for high school is still geared towards finding a job as HS grad, not towards entering college. 1 year of physics or chemistry WILL be required in 2015 grads. Before then, it's OK to keep taking biology! I had 5 years of each, all required! That's from 3rd world country.

By the time these engineer-wannabes enter college without physics, it's too late. They could have done it in high school for free.

Ah, but your country was providing knowledge in pre-college to cultivate an environment to move the country forward.  IMO, the U.S. simply is concerned about the graduation rates of the masses in high school.  As long as a non-cultural, non-discriminatory, non-sexist test indicates that they pass, they are passed.  This is the ultimate melting-pot and produces a most mediocre individual.  Some will find their inner drive while in college, but they will spend needless hours catching-up to the well-rounded intellectual... rather, most that succeed will delve heavily into a particular subject, excel in that, and go on after college to continue in their myopic careers.  

Successful, perhaps, but only in a niche marketplace which is why, IMO, that the current economic crisis is deeper than it should be for the ripple; that is, when displaced from the workforce, many of those unemployed are simply not capable of performing in alternate fields.  Of course, that is just my opinion...


Mad physicist

I agree math shouldn't seem like a magical black box, because it's anything but that. I think anyone who uses mathematics extensively should know about their inner wheelworks.


Should electric engineers use matlab instead of doing fourier transform by hand?

I believe it's much more important to understand why fourrier transform works than being proficient at doing them by hand. And I mean having gone through the whole bunch of theorems and their demonstrations (which are about why the theorem is true more than persuade you it is) on the subject, and doing a few of them by hand, to get a feel.

During my three years undergrad physics, we had all our math course with the math students, and we were asked the same (sometimes sickening) level of rigour as them. Sometimes I felt it was too much. But now, when I have matlab compute, say, a fourrier transform, to reuse your example, I exactly know what's going on and why this can be done at all. I think this is of prime importance when doing science, more than being able to perform it manually.

My point being, once you really know what you're doing, why don't let the machine do the dirty work ?


My son heads off to engineering college this in a few weeks (same school as mom & dad) - with enough AP credits (32) in math & science that he is starting school as a sophomore (well past mom & dad!). At his charter school, they used college text books for biology, chemistry, physics, math, and maybe other classes as well.

Hopefully he won't turn into a "self-important excuse-maker and conceited, would-be technocrat" 8)
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