How well US students prepare for science and engineering

Minnesota is among the top 5 in science and engineering readiness index according to AIP. But from what I see in the past decade or so, there’s very little such readiness. I can’t imagine how the rest of this country is preparing. What a waste of money to bring up kids that can’t add. My university admits top 50% high school graduates and yet some of them can’t even add. A student of mine works at math help center teaching them how to add. I admire her determination to improve these poor kids.

http://www.aps.org/units/fed/newsletters/summer2011/white-cottle.cfm

Anyone trying to get these kids to do arduino should get a medal.

oh but they drill the holy snot out of them on things like diagramming sentences and literary analysis. Not that those thing are useless, but think how many book reports you did vs science projects.

To take your expression and cast to science education department in my place:

they (sci. Ed. profs) drill the holy snot out of them (sci. Ed. major students) on things like pedagogy but not actually how to teach kids or even content cause they know zero about actual science teaching or science topics. Some of my phys. ed. students are so fed up plus they gravitate towards us (physics profs) and they switch to phys. majors instead of bloated phys. ed. majors. These are good kids. They'd make great physics teachers but they switched to phys. majors and will pursue grad school etc. Will take 10 more years till they start training phys. ed. majors themselves.

What are people who cannot "add" doing in college at all?
Remedial arithmetic and remedial language arts, too - in college - so they can hang out for two or three years for an "associate's" degree (drop out).
It's absurd.

I don't understand the "engineering" angst, it's not everyone's ken and that's OK. I think the last thing anyone needs is a haircut from an "engineer".

Colleges do not turn out well-rounded people. Nowadays they manufacture self-important excuse-makers and conceited, would-be technocrats.

I can still add, subtract,multiply, divide but a hell of a lot slower than I used to. I also used to use Log tables and a slide rule. The sad (or happy) fact is that I no longer have to know any of these things. Calculators and computers have made these manual processes obsolete. And how many engineers won’t tip their hats to spell checkers. Now I can write a an intelligent looking document without spending half my time in a dictionary!

I’m thinking that this will only get worse with time. The question is; does everybody really need to know how to do simple math by hand? It’s fine to know the underlying theory but how many real world situations do you run into where you can’t grab your nearest electronic crutch and type in the numbers?

When I was in high school. You were not allowed to use anything but a pencil on any kind of test, now most places allow calculators, and why not. This is the twenty first century. The paradigm has shifted.

I still believe hand calculating basic arithmetic is required for engineers and scientists. If you don't write in the language of math, I don't know how well you can learn a science or engineering degree. Should someone memorize square root of 2 and 3 or use a calculator every time? Should electric engineers use matlab instead of doing fourier transform by hand? Maybe not when they are in training. What about CSCI major dealing with binary and hex? If you have not seen and hand calculated them enough, they just appear as meaningless combinations that you punch into a calculator. There are plenty of time my cell phone run out of battery when I needed it for something. Unless I carry a back up battery, I'll be without a calculator, a camera, a map, a compass, and a phone book etc.

I agree with you liudr Scientists and engineers… and pretty much every one else need to be familiar with basic math. The point is that the rote memorization of times tables and the ability to do long division on a piece of paper is no longer as important as it once was.

I agree, it seems like there is far less emphasis on science and math in schools. Back in the 1960’s when I was in school, even the local Junior collages were offering four full semesters of calculus, chemistry and physics. Now this is condensed into one or two semester overviews. Also the inflated grad system was not in place. If you got and A or B in these courses , you deserved it.

I think that the bottom line is that it is fine using aids to calculation but you need to be able to tell if the result is wrong for what ever reason, be it malfunction or user error.

And it doesn't matter if that aid is log tables, slide rule or electronic calculator.

I think that the bottom line is that it is fine using aids to calculation but you need to be able to tell if the result is wrong for what ever reason, be it malfunction or user error.

And it doesn't matter if that aid is log tables, slide rule or electronic calculator.

When I was a G.A. in grad school I had a prof who insisted we we sum up test scores in our head, when we graded papers. Since the numbers were never more than two digits, it was pretty easy. However what I do now is take lots and lots of percentage compositions. like 1209.4/5321.8
I really can't see using long division to get the answer.

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)

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.

But...

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 ?

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…

Ray

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.

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.

"Arithmetic ...false thing that they invented in school so that the children that studied Algebra could all pass it. They had invented a set of rules which if you followed them without thinking could produce the answer" -Richard Feynman

Hallelujah. I still remember the first day of Pre-Calc in high school. "Turn to page 23 & let's begin." Really? We're not going to go over what Calculus is or why it was invented in the first place? No mention of Newton? Christ the least he could have done was got up in front of the class & dropped something on the floor. This is where your "why do we need to learn this" comes from. Philosophy isn't taught. I guess it's not important?

liedur, I just applied for NDSU. I'm getting out of here before spring semester starts. Everyone dropped out, lmao. Btw, we could use more speakers at Code42 (MN Arduino)

MinnesotaEE:
R. P. Feynman on Algebra. - YouTube

"Arithmetic ...false thing that they invented in school so that the children that studied Algebra could all pass it. They had invented a set of rules which if you followed them without thinking could produce the answer" -Richard Feynman

Hallelujah. I still remember the first day of Pre-Calc in high school. "Turn to page 23 & let's begin." Really? We're not going to go over what Calculus is or why it was invented in the first place? No mention of Newton? Christ the least he could have done was got up in front of the class & dropped something on the floor. This is where your "why do we need to learn this" comes from. Philosophy isn't taught. I guess it's not important?

liedur, I just applied for NDSU. I'm getting out of here before spring semester starts. Everyone dropped out, lmao. Btw, we could use more speakers at Code42 (MN Arduino)

This is the most frustrating thing about college that I am experiencing right now. Just teaching how to do certain steps without explaining how the steps came about, or why they are even necessary or important. Natural Logarithms are a great example. We know how to do them, and how to manipulate them to make them easier. But no idea how or why they are useful, how they came about, or why we even do them in the first place.

I think it is analogous to teaching a child to recognise that 2+2=4, without actually telling them what 2 is, what the + symbol is, or anything else. Just that when you see 2+2, it ='s 4. As a student I find college to be more counter-productive at times than beneficial. I say this because I use my G.I Bill to go to school, so in a way I think that the taxpayers paying for my education have a right to know what is going on inside the University consuming those tax dollars.

I graduated from High School in 1982, and I am not certain how nation wide my situation was, but I think my generation was victim to the "dumming down" of school. The philosophy was that they needed to cater to the lowest common denominator, to make sure more students graduate.

When I was laid off from a job in 2009, I took advantage of the opportunity to get back into a Engineering Technology Associates degree I had started. One of the things that surprised me was how fully they were immersed into the Metric system. The text books treated the English units as an afterthought. Yet all of the companies I had worked for, were almost exclusively using English units. In the physics class, which was 100% metric, I was wondering if I was the only one that was concerned about my weakness with using Metric. I asked the rest of the class if something weighed 10 kg, is it more likely to be a paper clip, a baby, or an elephant. The only ones who thought they might know the answer were not US born.

So, our physics class, the fundamental class to any engineering program, was being taught in units for which the students had no real-world understanding. I think what happened, is that the schools taught some metric to the students as they were growing up, and pronounced them "metric literate". But, for US students, metric is still a foreign unit, and not part of their everyday lives. So, they are left floundering when more advanced classes immersed them in these foreign units. And to make matters worse, they graduate to US businesses, who use English units. And since their engineering education was focused on Metric, the students are not as well prepared to use the English units for engineering.

I realize that US students need to be well versed in both Metric and English. But, to assume you can properly teach basic concepts of physics and engineering using foreign units is foolish.

-Joe

All this concern over units is over blown. Converting from one to the other is just a matter of multiplying/dividing by 2.54 for cm/inches, or 25.4 for mm/inches. Once you realize its just units, any measure can be converted to any other measure. For example, start with 60 miles/hour, and convert away: 60 miles/hour x 5280 ft/mile x 12 inches/foot x 2.54 cm/inch x 10mm/cm x 1 hour/60 minutes x 1 minute/60 seconds = a very large number of mm/sec.

I graduated high school in 1979, but I was one of those kids who didn't skip classes, did all my homework, and was tracked (in New York state) in classes that led to college. If you didn't put any effort in, then your education reflected that.

I think it is important to be able to estimate in your head. I've had a lifetime of troubleshooting, often without service manuals or schematics. Being able to sight-read resistor color codes and estimate currents, voltages, power, and resistances quickly has come in very handy.

cadcoke,

Maybe your industry background is in traditional mechanical and manufacturing, which still lingers on with English units (say car industry and some else). You won't find metric units there. The English units have no apparent benefit over metric, which is what is used widely even in US for all science and most of engineering fields. Just the everyday stuff such as length and weights are lingering among US people. Understandable. It's a matter of time. The rest of the world is not going to keep making two versions of everything just to serve US and world-US :wink: