April 26, 2011

What do you do when...?

What do you do when 4-5 students in a precalculus course are asking what a cubic or even worse a quadratic equation is? Me? My jaw dropped. I was nearly speechless. My response was on the verge of disrespect/disbelief I simply couldn't wrap my head around the idea.

How in the world have they made it this far in math and they can't identify a cubic, quadratic or exponential equation?

For a good while I felt like the most awful teacher. Here I had them looking at limits and how fast functions approach infinity and they don't know the difference between a quadratic and a cubic function. Then I thought, wait I didn't teach them those functions... I can blame the other guy. With the finger pointing done, I thought about how cool it was they were understanding complex ideas like limits!

Adding to that list I think this is, to some extent, an indication of the state of math education. I care about vocabulary only so far as it allows my students and I to have a conversation using words not just symbols. My students know how to deal with quadratics on paper they just don't know what they're called.

I have never done "matching" on a test. I think my next quiz will have a vocab matching section...

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