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Math and Science Popular With Students Until They Realize They're Hard

timothy posted 1 year,20 days | from the luckily-I-skipped-out-early dept.

Education 580

First time accepted submitter HonorPoncaCityDotCom writes "Khadeeja Safdar reports in the WSJ that researchers who surveyed 655 incoming college students found that while math and science majors drew the most interest initially, not many students finished with degrees in those subjects. Students who dropped out didn't do so because they discovered an unexpected amount of the work and because they were dissatisfied with their grades. "Students knew science was hard to begin with, but for a lot of them it turned out to be much worse than what they expected," says Todd R. Stinebrickner, one of the paper's authors. "What they didn't expect is that even if they work hard, they still won't do well." The authors add that the substantial overoptimism about completing a degree in science can be attributed largely to students beginning school with misperceptions about their ability to perform well academically in science. ""If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared (PDF) to study science.""

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like anything else.. (4, Insightful)

houbou (1097327) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255787)

hard is merely the fact that often, the theories and equations taught are quite abstract. It is very important to have a solid grasp of concepts, but in the end, the material could be improved with visual and/or tangible results which have some values and/or association to the abstract concepts.

Re:like anything else.. (5, Insightful)

Rockoon (1252108) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255815)

Whats needed is good educators, like Richard Feynman was. What passes for "good educator" these days is pathetic.

Re:like anything else.. (4, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255903)

Whats needed is good educators, like Richard Feynman was. What passes for "good educator" these days is pathetic.

We could certainly do with a lot less people going around saying Math is hard. That's defeatist thinking. Math is easy!

Re:like anything else.. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255927)

Math is hard when the only reason the math teacher still has a job is "tenure" and/or "union."

Re:like anything else.. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255945)

No. Math is hard because it's like running long distances. Few people actually like running, or any kind of exercise. Many people do it for utilitarian reasons while hating it. Some people like it inherently, though. I had a gym teacher once who was addicted to running to the point that it was bad for his health.

Re:like anything else.. (4, Insightful)

fredprado (2569351) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256019)

Math is the most difficult subject known by humankind. Basic math is very easy, college math is reasonably easy, engineering school math is quite hard, mathematics graduation math is considerably harder, and math research is ridiculously hard.

Re:like anything else.. (3, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256109)

Math is the most difficult subject known by humankind.

Care to offer some evidence for that assertion?

Re: like anything else.. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256177)

I have a most wonderful proof of that assertion, but sadly the limited character set of the slashdot text editor will not allow me to present it!

Re:like anything else.. (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256243)

Well, there aren't many fields with well-defined problems that have solutions which can't be found without many human generations of effort. And many math problems are known to be intractable. For example, the Halting problem [wikipedia.org] .

I mention that example because there is probably a Turing machine with input that can be fully described in modest time by a human, but which can't be determined to halt even using the entire resources of the known universe converted optimally into a computer and run for the rest of eternity.

Re:like anything else.. (5, Funny)

Iniamyen (2440798) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256315)

Care to offer some evidence for that assertion?

Of course not! He was talking about math, not science!
I guess technically he needs to provide a proof.

Re:like anything else.. (5, Insightful)

expatriot (903070) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256065)

Feynman was fantastic at inspiring people and giving them an intuition for physics with simple drawings.

Do you think he understood partial differential equations, functions in a complex space, matrix math, group theory? Sure he did. If he wrote some of that on a blackboard in a 60 minute talk, would the audience struggle to keep up?

I am still not sure I understand using 4x4 matrices to do transforms in three space. I can write the code though (slowly).

My wife (English and Drama) said the biggest party people were the liberal arts students because they did not need as much time to study. And when they were studying they mostly were reading.

A good educator can make learning calculus better than a poor one, but there it is still hard (well for me anyway).

Re:like anything else.. (2)

Rockoon (1252108) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256211)

Do you think he understood partial differential equations, functions in a complex space, matrix math, group theory? Sure he did. If he wrote some of that on a blackboard in a 60 minute talk, would the audience struggle to keep up?

No, they wouldn't have struggled to keep up. The genius of Feynman was that he used things like blackboards productively. [youtube.com]

If you think that writing equations on blackboards is equal to education, then you've already gotten screwed over by a disastrous education system that only did that for you.

Re:like anything else.. (4, Interesting)

bmacs27 (1314285) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255955)

That's true, we need more educators like, oh... say.... one of the top 5 physicists of the last century. The point of the article is that the kids aren't prepared for when the Feynmans of the world (university faculty) get a hold of them. I can vouch for this. The extent of student ignorance is often shocking. It makes it hard to predict why something is difficult for a student to understand, and thus to educate them. One kid spent hours completely baffled about one problem, only for it later to be made clear he didn't understand the concept of graphs. Not this particular graph, but the general idea that data can be visualized by plotting on an axis. My wife had another kid that wasn't understanding "sex-linked" disorders. It ultimately became clear that he didn't know he had a Y chromosome. It's scary.

Re:like anything else.. (3, Informative)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256143)

On the flip side, I had professors who would teach material so badly that the class average was 28% or 35%. Even the best student in the class that already had the book memorized since infancy got a 75% because the test was worded so badly he couldn't understand the question. But hey, rather than actually teach anything, just use a curve and its all fixed.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

yurtinus (1590157) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256241)

I'm sure we've all had a class like that. In all cases I know of, it was a new professor who really was still learning how to teach. One or even two professors like that is not going to ruin your education unless you let them. At my school, there were two professors like that which I can think of, and by the time I graduated their class averages had gotten up to the normal range and they were generally well regarded.

Re:like anything else.. (2)

Rockoon (1252108) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256237)

That's true, we need more educators like, oh... say.... one of the top 5 physicists of the last century.

While Feynman may have been one of the top 5 physicists of the last century, the other 4 weret/arent good educators. You arent actually making a point here.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256203)

Hey! Lets all jump on to the hate teacher's circlejerk! Remember, grip the one on the right!

Have you talked to any educators lately? No, you haven't obviously. Teachers today only teach what's mandated now.
Because that's what the law requires, and that's all they have money for. We've let a bunch of legislators dictate that test scores are king and everything else is a waste of money.

What's fucked up is. Us. You. Our culture is anti-education and anti-intellectual. We're inflicting grave injustice on our children and setting up a future of failure.

It's only going to solved with hard work, sacrifice, and a lot of money.

We're fucking doomed.

Re:like anything else.. (4, Interesting)

slew (2918) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256299)

Whats needed is good educators, like Richard Feynman was. What passes for "good educator" these days is pathetic.

I'm not so sure Richard Feynman would agree that he was a "good educator", although he was a great scientist. By many accounts, he mainly enjoyed teaching as an exercise to keep his own mind fresh and as an excuse to re-explore things that he knew very well and hopefully stumble upon a new way of looking at things. On his famous lecture series, he himself stated "I don’t think I did very well by the students" and by some accounts was generally depressed by average scores on the tests the year that he was teaching that class in introductory physics from which the lectures were recorded.

It's not to say that really smart folks can't benefit from learning what he could teach, but that even he would probably recognize that if the students aren't learning, you need to have some different approaches to teaching to truly be a good educator.

FWIW, Having sat through a couple of his lectures (right before he passed away), I can say you come out feeling that you know exactly what he's talking about until you actually put pen to paper and realize, he just made it seem so simple, not that you learned what you needed to learn (I apparently was NOT one of those gifted enough to get it on the first pass). Certainly it takes a great talent to make something so complicated seem so intuitive, but at the same time, that doesn't necessarily make a good education plan.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

icebike (68054) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255873)

Given the current way that most schools and universities operate, the hard work servers merely as a filter, to get rid of those they find unsuitable.

There is probably less interest in teaching anything of real value than there is in finding a way to dump a large percentage of the masses that they don't think will make it anyway. All pretense of making sure students learn and understand disappears somewhere in the middle of high school.

From then on out, schools and colleges act as society's steering committee.

Not saying this is wrong, there may be no point in suggesting anything beyond technical school for the motor-head or anything besides finishing school for the air head.

Still you have to wonder how many quality brains are missed by a school structure more interested in sorting than in educating.

Re:like anything else.. (5, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255885)

hard is merely the fact that often, the theories and equations taught are quite abstract. It is very important to have a solid grasp of concepts, but in the end, the material could be improved with visual and/or tangible results which have some values and/or association to the abstract concepts.

I've had dozens of college profs and the ones which stood out were the ones who were good listeners as well and perceptive of what students struggle over. Generally I found when I thought a course was 'hard' I knew 80% or more of the material or concepts, but I was struggling over one or two things which blocked conceptual understanding of things further on.

Subbing, as a TA once in a programming class I was perplexed how people couldn't wrap their heads around the idea of a Variable (think of it as a name on a bucket, into which I add or remove apples, yet they were still stumped).

Things do tend to be more 'hard' when the student spends more time listening to their nay-saying peers than their instructors. When you actually believe Math, Chemistry or Physics is 'hard' your belief is your own largest obstacle to learning.

Re:like anything else.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255995)

I definitely don't learn well without good visuals and growing up I was usually instead presented with pages of algebra and equations. Math can be extremely intuitive if taught correctly - but when you can't translate those pages of algebra into visual concepts things get "hard".

Re:like anything else.. (1, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256077)

In high school, your grades are primarily a reflection of how hard you work.

In college, your grades are primarily a reflection on how smart you are.

Re:like anything else.. (2, Interesting)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256161)

Not true. I have a very high IQ and got some Ds and Fs in college. The best students routinely fall in the 120 to 130 IQ range. Smart enough to get the concepts but not smart enough to be outraged at the futility and waste of time and money that college is.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256199)

In college, your grades are primarily a reflection on how smart you are.

Not even close. Your college grades are determined by:
1. Understanding the material.
2. Part marks.
3. Knowing the professors.
4. Planning.
5. Reading old exams.

I still remember in one signals class, the guy next to me asked how I did for one of the homework questions, and I told him I didn't do it because it looked awful. He told me it took him several hours to solve.

"[First name], it's worth 1/2 of 1%."

"... you son of a bitch."

But hey, what do I know, I've just got an engineering degree on my wall here next to my PE certificate.

Re:like anything else.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256277)

But hey, what do I know, I've just got an engineering degree on my wall here next to my PE certificate.

PE certificate? Prostate Examination certificate? ;-)

Re:like anything else.. (4, Insightful)

benf_2004 (931652) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256311)

I found the exact opposite to be true. I put forth minimal effort in high school (rarely studied, frequently daydreamed during classes, ignored lots of homework assignments) and graduated with honors. I tried to do the same thing when I started college and I was on academic probation after the first quarter. I learned then that I was actually going to have to put forth a reasonable amount of effort if I wanted to graduate.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

yurtinus (1590157) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256335)

I'd shift that a bit... In high school, your grades are primarily an indication of how awake you were. In college, they're primarily a reflection of how hard you work (with a bit of brains thrown in for good measure).

As others have mentioned here, though - while you're in school there is an over-emphasis on grades which don't really matter once you're out. We need to do a better job of managing expectations. If a student is used to getting As in high school and gets Bs or Cs in their early math or engineering course, they shouldn't consider that a reason to change majors.

Re:like anything else.. (3, Insightful)

tylikcat (1578365) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256087)

I think there is something of a grades / work problem for many students. And I suspect that if bright students were more accustomed to classes where they could work fairly hard and not make As, undergraduate science classes would be less of a shock. A lot of the kids I see* turning away aren't doing badly - they're just used to doing so much better with so much less effort. Which is more or less what they've been trained to expect, after all.

And people commonly attribute far more to talent than to hard work. So many kids look at the first physics exam where they've gotten a 67 (which is the lowest grade they've ever gotten in their lives, even if it was the third highest grade in the class) and become convinced that they're just not good at this stuff. I mean, their friends who are psych majors are pulling 4.0, and there they are with a 3.2 even though they spend an order of magnitude more time on their homework. Meanwhile, their parents are asking why their grades have fallen so much since highschool. (Okay, while all these are examples from people I know, they're not all the same person.)

* I teach biology and neuroscience.

Re:like anything else.. (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256239)

One of the mandatory math classes at my alma mater had (still has?) a 70% failure rate. I got a D the first time I took it, which put me in the elite top 1/3 of math there. My (now ex) wife didn't see it that way, it was more of a "YOU SHOULD GET As ALL THE TIME!!" Seriously, of the four co-op students I was on term with, I was the only one that passed that class.

There was an expression going around when I was in school: "shoot for the stars and you might get the moon." I added "aim for the moon and try to clear the ditch."

I just didn't care about my grades. Since graduation, nobody's cared about them either. If I wasn't at the bottom of my class, graduating GPS wise, I was in the bottom 10% for sure. Of course, I had more time for hobbies and family.

Yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255791)

It really breaks your concentration when you realize you are hard. :(

Really? derp derp (-1)

xevioso (598654) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255799)

"If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared."

Conclusion: We should improve education.

Whee! And they spent how long and how much money coming to this conclusion?

Re:Really? derp derp (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255925)

"If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared."

Conclusion: We should improve education.

Whee! And they spent how long and how much money coming to this conclusion?

This is a completely ignorant comment.

There has always been a question of where money and resources should be dedicated if we want to increase the number of STEM college graduates. To many people, it would seem obvious that if we want more college graduates in subjects, we should just support those subjects more at the college level. After all, these students get good grades in high school, but they struggle when they take that college physics class.

Although this might seem obvious, this study indicates that it is probably completely wrong. Increasing funding at the college level is unlikely to have much of an impact - the money would be better spent by improving teaching at lower levels. The high grades in high school just indicate that standards have gone to crap, not that students are prepared.

Now, this does match up with what pretty much any college (natural) science educator would tell you. Everybody with any experience in science education at the university level can tell you that students come in WOEFULLY unprepared for college level (natural) science. The students simply aren't good enough, and instead of lowering standards excessively, many of the sciences simply force prospective majors to work much, much harder than other majors.

But, it is always important to have studies backing up anecdotal evidence before you start spending millions to billions of dollars.

Re:Really? derp derp (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256231)

There has always been a question of where money and resources should be dedicated if we the number of STEM college graduates.

There's no point in even asking that question until it's been decided whether "we" want to increase the number of STEM graduates, and if so, why "we" want to. If that question was analyzed a tenth as scientifically as the question of where to allocate resources if "we" want to increase the number of STEM graduates, it would be a miracle. The assumption that "we" should want to is endlessly asserted and little questioned. Whose agenda does that promote?

Post college earnings (2)

0100010001010011 (652467) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255813)

A lot of it has to do with "Engineers make good money" or "My dad's an engineer, I'm smarter than him". I remember seeing it all the time back in college.

Then they realise it's hard and transfer to a different major.

Re:Post college earnings (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255869)

We laughed when they announced the Liberal Arts graduates.

Re:Post college earnings (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255893)

I took a liberal arts degree, failed to complete it, and now have a $150,000/yr job in... Engineering.

Please keep laughing.

Re:Post college earnings (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255943)

Sounds like he should.

Re:Post college earnings (1)

Seumas (6865) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256043)

That likely isn't owed to your (partial) liberal arts degree. Possibly sheer luck. Probably you fell into something that was really your passion and that you were obsessed with and you found a way to succeed in the field.

Re:Post college earnings (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256091)

I think a major misconception a lot of people have is that there is a strictly ordered field of easy-->difficult subjects. I'm really cut out for engineering, but I don't think I would be able to go through (say) law school without shooting myself. By the same token, I've met some lawyers that are pretty science-illiterate, I couldn't see them going through a STEM program.

I think my point is that a lot of people think science and engineering are cool, but then they realize they don't actually like the leg-work that you have to do to make the result. That doesn't mean they're stupid, it just means they have a different niche.

Re:Post college earnings (1)

Seumas (6865) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255953)

Yeah, part of me suspects it's just an issue of "well, we need to stop babying them through gradeschool and highschool so it isn't such a harsh shock when they get to college and find how ill prepared the system has made them"... the other part of me says "good, this weeks out the lazy twats who just jump into a career, because they read that it is one of the top five careers in high demand in some shitty magazine rather than actually being passionate in the field".

derpert (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255817)

Solution: make the classes easier!

You're welcome,

My alma mater (2)

Valdrax (32670) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255829)

My alma mater used to have saying that summed this up quite nicely for the freshman physics weed-out classes:

"E-mag, Re-mag, Three-mag, Management."

Re:My alma mater (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255895)

i don't get it

Re:My alma mater (3, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255979)

I believe it has to do with electromagnetics and its ability to suss out the wheat from the chaff at alarming rates. You fail EM three times and then you're ready to change to a business major.

At least, this is the only context I've ever heard it in, so I'm kind of just guessing.

Re:My alma mater (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256229)

Electromagnetics can be made even harder by the professor.

1. Use different variables than those used by the book. i.e. use G instead of D, etc.
2. Stand in front of the board while you fill it full of equations, then pull down another board so that the students never get to actually see what you wrote down.
3. Write very fast, and fill the blackboards 20 or so times every class, with the requirement that the students need to be able to remember al of this for the weekly tests. And erase the boards immediately after you reach the bottom if you haven't hidden them under another board.
4. Never relate to anything real-world. The numerous fields are only defined by their equations, not to any definition. That insures that you cannot relate the differing variable names to the text.
5. Never, ever, refer to the (expensive) text book. Don't follow it's order. Give everything covered differing names.

Also act surprised when over half the class drops the required class, which is only available only once a year.
Worst class ever.

Not surprising at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255831)

Set your school eduction so low that anyone can pass will give a lot of students the misconception that they are better than they really are.

You can't "prepare" to have a high IQ (3, Insightful)

KrazyDave (2559307) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255839)

All of these garbage political/social projects to supposedly increase American kids' achievement in science are just that: feel good garbage. Lowering standards only goes so far until real work and real achievement are required.

Re:You can't "prepare" to have a high IQ (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256303)

All of these garbage political/social projects to supposedly increase American kids' achievement in science are just that: feel good garbage. Lowering standards only goes so far until real work and real achievement are required.

Yep. I've said it before and I'll say it again - infotainment and edutainment and meaningless feel good "science" projects are doing a vast disservice to a whole generation of students. They don't actually learn anything and they don't learn how to learn. When the history of current education is written a century hence, STEM will be seen as a total failure.

This just in: Science is Hard (4, Funny)

Yergle143 (848772) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255871)

The Onion [theonion.com] has reported on this ground breaking finding exhaustively.

So why did they drop out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255877)

Students who dropped out didn't do so because they discovered an unexpected amount of the work and because they were dissatisfied with their grades.

This implies that the students did not drop out because the courses were hard, but for some other reason. But title says otherwise. So... why did they drop out?

Re:So why did they drop out? (1)

Molochi (555357) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256079)

It's a bungled quote. RTFA.

Fails to control for college (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255879)

As usual they fail to take into account that college sucks at instruction. They're shifting the blame downwards rather than wondering "oh wow so we give these kids textbooks and read directly from slides to rooms full of hundreds of students and then wonder why they don't intuitively grasp the concepts right away!"

Re:Fails to control for college (2)

HornWumpus (783565) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255981)

The whole point of education is teaching you to learn. By college you are _supposed_ to no longer need to be spoon fed.

Re:Fails to control for college (-1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256055)

The whole point of education is teaching you to learn.

All those years of school wouldn't be necessary if that was all it is. It's supposed to actually, you know, help them understand the fundamentals, not just teach them how to learn (which they likely already know how to do, and if they don't, it wouldn't take long to tell them). People get stuck and need help. Mentalities like yours are part of the problem.

The price of mediocrity (3, Insightful)

kheldan (1460303) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255897)

From TFA:

"If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared (PDF) to study science."

In other words, this is the price everyone is now paying for public schools sucking so much ass: A generation full of kids who will end up working at McDonalds or something equally meaningless, because they weren't given a decent foundation in grade school and high school.

Re:The price of mediocrity (3, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256105)

Not so much. It's just the usual complaints that future PHBs can't be made into engineers no matter how young you start.

America's top 25% of kids ranks with any nations. We fall flat (on average) because of how badly we do with the mouth breathers. Frankly they don't matter, an educated

Re:The price of mediocrity (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256189)

Its not spending [usc.edu] that is the issue. The US outspends all other countries and doesn't get results. Hint, if you look into it about half of it goes to administrators in buildings where students are not at. So increase spending even more will still not get results.

Unfortunately the people who have given the solutions have been called idiots, racists, and bigots so its not likely to improve ever.

I've said this a million times (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255899)

Math and Science are NOT hard. What they are is fucking tedious. Its a problem of patience, not intelligence. Compounding the problem is rambling autist professors who can barely speak fluent English. We'd have a lot more interest in Science in Math if they were based only on real-world problems, with plenty of visual aids and applications to assist in their learning.

What the average math class amounts to is mind-numbing tedium, doing "jack-off math" for math's own sake. Which is exactly the solution of the problem - offer an upper division catch-up class called "Jack-off Math for Math's own sake" about solving all of those needless endless nested-derivative problems to prepare them for "Pure Math" or whatever it is the autists are studying nowadays.

-- Ethanol-fueled

Re:I've said this a million times (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256069)

Math and Science are NOT hard. What they are is fucking tedious.

Only if you have an algorithm to the solution (as is the case with arithmetic, algebra, calculus, etc.). If you have to construct a solution yourself without relying on prior information, then math and science become hard.

Re:I've said this a million times (2)

occasional_dabbler (1735162) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256119)

Troll

Re:I've said this a million times (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256127)

Who the fuck needs "real world" when the whole point is to take abstract concept after abstract concept and internalize them into the way you think? I hate "concrete problems" - just describe the system in the most austere manner possible so I can cram it into my brain faster.

Well, when you have poor teaching (1, Insightful)

stox (131684) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255913)

Arithmetic is hard. A good teacher is worth their weight in gold. I consider myself extremely fortunate that I had a few in my career. Sadly, I don't know how we can change the system to get many more. If I could, Nobel Prize baby!

Re:Well, when you have poor teaching (1)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256205)

Easy. Teaching salaries for Math and Science need to double. If that happened (and I could make my same salary teaching high school or college level programming), I would switch in a second.

Re:Well, when you have poor teaching (1)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256235)

I taught programming as an adjunct professor while my wife was finishing up college (worked there in the IT dept too) and I LOVED teaching. But it was BY FAR the most work for the least pay of any job I have ever had including minimum wage. ALL of my students ended up in IT careers, despite the school not having that as a focus. The least was a high school math teacher that became the math department head in her second year as a 23-year-old because she was the only one who knew how to use the computers.

And I had a kid who had never touched a computer before but he got an A in my class and ended up in an IT career.

Other than the pay, it was so rewarding...

dumb (0)

lkcl (517947) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255923)

how about... just accepting that the country's bringing up kids who are dumb, and being happy with that? by contrast: in japan, kids are taught to be able to do mental arithmetic at lightning speed. tests involve flashing up 6-digit sums for 1/3 of a second every couple of seconds.

Re:dumb (5, Interesting)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256265)

Having talked to East Asian co-workers, we came to the conclusion that while rote memorization was by far in favor of the Asians, solving unseen problems went to the Americans. They were constantly astounded at how easily we could solve problems that we had never heard of before and credited the American education system. So, I would say not dumb, just a different focus.

Why would I care about doing the lightning-speed mental arithmetic? I have a calculator for that.

Re:dumb (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256289)

in japan, kids are taught to be able to do mental arithmetic at lightning speed. tests involve flashing up 6-digit sums for 1/3 of a second every couple of seconds

Let's teach our students to do something more difficult and more useful, like balance a ball on the end of their nose while clapping their flippers (err, hands). The ability to do some mental arithmetic is very useful, but the usefulness of doing 6 digit sums in your head was obviated by technologies like the abacus or pencil and paper. Go with the ball on your nose.

Grades (3, Insightful)

sandwall (1459951) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255939)

How about teaching children grades don't matter as much as they are meant to believe. Science undergrad with sub-par (2.7) GPA, still made it into graduate school and currently make six figures (with my degree's). Clearly remember, straight A students crying over B's and other straight A students switching to easier majors to maintain unrealistic GPAs. No one gives a shit about your 4.0 five years after the fact. Actually, no one gives a shit now. Too many believe they're learning the material in the book, they're actually learning *how to learn*

Re:Grades (1)

Seumas (6865) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256025)

I have a ninth grade education (well, an eighth grade I suppose, really) and have had a six figure salary most of my adult life. I would assert that GPAs don't matter a hell of a lot in a practical sense. I would also assert that a degree doesn't matter a hell of a lot, either. It certainly doesn't hurt (on paper, to unlock doors, if nothing else). The most important thing is the passion and ambition. If you don't have that, the degree and the grades are fucking meaningless. If you *do* have that, you *can* overcome the lack of those things in most situations (obviously, you're not going to become a lawyer or medical doctor without institutional academia).

I can not imagine wasting all the time, money, and energy of a full education for something you weren't truly passionate about. Baffling.

Re:Grades (1)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256279)

Exactly. Do something you are passionate about. That's the key to success and--especially--happiness.

Re:Grades (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256273)

I was a C student. Given the number of raises I've had in the last 9 years, I'm going to suggest I'm a pretty decent engineer. There were a couple of times when I was explaining what some semiconductors were doing and how the electrons travelled through the system and I just got shocked faces.

"Wait, you actually know what's going on?"

Everyone thought I was a slacker that should have flunked out. I just never cared about grades.

Are you telling me (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255947)

that rewarding mediocre talent and allowing pseudo science in classrooms is resulting in students being unprepared to study science in college? Gasp!!

Everyone Wins (4, Insightful)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255949)

Its the last 20 years of coddling and telling kids thay can do anything, handing out prizes to everyone, and boring the crap out of anyone with an extra IQ point above average that makes the mentality that well, of course you can dear, all you have to do is work hard and you can do anything.

Then you get a classroom full of people who expect a prize every time they do anything.

/ old grump rant..

Re:Everyone Wins (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256111)

Bravo! Too many little sweetums who could do no wrong in their public schools, sass their teachers but still get passing grades without working for them... see the kids that tried to work harder and get ahead ridiculed or forced to stop and 'help the other kinds who are just not progressing quite as well'; then they enter the real world. And its hard!!! Waaa!

Re:Everyone Wins (1)

Winter Lightning (88187) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256209)

Damnation - I just blew my mod points before this story came-up. SuperCharlie has hit the nail on the head.

This has come about because politicians - mostly soft classics/humanities* types with no significant experience of the world outside politics that pays the bills - wanted to make voters think that the junior and high school systems in places like the US and UK were still working after all their meddling. Add some incompetent box-ticking bureaucrats and educators who are content to game the system, and you have the mess that we're in. The best and brightest still make their own way, but many kids arrive in STEM courses at university/college and can't cope with the kind of learning environment that depends on curiosity and initiative in addition to hard work. Some seem to think that regurgitation and rhetoric will win celebrity status - but STEM subjects generally aren't like that.

*These subjects are great in themselves, but we have too many politicians from this kind of background who largely use their subjects as a way of peddling lies.

Skateboarding and Comic Books Popular with Kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255957)

until they discover girls.

It's about attention span (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44255959)

That's always been an issue, but starting with the Nintendo 64 Generation (late '80s) and WWW Generation (mid '90s) the acceleration of prepacked information-rich distractions has grown exponentially. If kids find they're not an expert in something within a week, they can throw it aside and get 3-4 new hobbies right away, each complete with a worldwide social circle. The same phenomenom is also causing problems for traditional school athletics and acoustical musical instruments.

Why does the WSJ hate American students? (3, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255969)

Why does the WSJ hate American students? Technically I shouldn't jump to that conclusion, since it is phrased conditionally. FTA:

“If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared to study science,” the researchers write in the paper.

Why would we want more STEM graduates? There is no objective evidence that there is a shortage of them, and quite a few indications that, at least in some fields, we have a surplus. Moreover US policy is, and for many years has been, to import STEM students or graduates rather than get Americans interested in these fields. We know this policy is essential because Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and other very wealthy STEM dropouts tell us it is.

Re:Why does the WSJ hate American students? (3, Funny)

PRMan (959735) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256291)

I can assure you that no company can hire enough programmers. They just aren't there.

Immune to Criticism (2)

mothlos (832302) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255971)

Of course it couldn't possibly be that classrooms are frequently designed for the efficiency of the institution over the educational needs of students. Lecture-based education, unaccommodating clasroom policies, instruction and assistance provided by persons with almost no professional education training, uninformative grading systems, a culture of shape-up or ship-out, none of these could possibly be changed without compromising the integrity of the program. The industrial organization of education can efficiently educate students well only by reducing the diversity of student learning requirements and that is most easily accomplished by rejecting input units which fail to meet specification. Don't you dare criticize this structure as to do so would only be dumbing things down and that is unacceptable.

Math and Science are taught wrong! (4, Interesting)

m00sh (2538182) | 1 year,20 days | (#44255975)

The main problem is that large parts of science and math are skills. But, they are taught as other subjects with a lecture and homework. You wouldn't learn swimming by listening to someone talk about it for an hour or learn to play the guitar by looking at someone playing it for an hour.

Seriously, there is even a saying among people that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Sitting in class and listening to lectures is the wrong way to learn something.

Re:Math and Science are taught wrong! (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256117)

The main problem is that large parts of science and math are skills. But, they are taught as other subjects with a lecture and homework. You wouldn't learn swimming by listening to someone talk about it for an hour or learn to play the guitar by looking at someone playing it for an hour.

Seriously, there is even a saying among people that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Sitting in class and listening to lectures is the wrong way to learn something.

Yeah. You learn math and science by doing the homework. There is no other way - if you try and learn those subjects by just listening to a lecture, you are insane.

Some subjects can be learned mostly by showing up to class and paying attention. I think that we've all had classes where we didn't really have to read the textbook or do much homework besides pumping out an occasional paper.

But math and science courses require the homework, which is why the homework load is typically so heavy in those classes. That's where the real learning happens.

The lecture material is just the background that pushes you far enough along so that you can do the homework.

Re:Math and Science are taught wrong! (1)

Georules (655379) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256153)

While I agree, getting students engaged enough to attempt to teach something is terribly hard. There is not a winning model for back and forth teaching/learning that works beyond just a few students in the room. Lecture/homework is the lazy solution for mass instruction.

It's Impossible until it becomes Trivial... (5, Insightful)

Gavin Scott (15916) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256001)

In almost any skill that has to be learned, there's often a fairly rapid and abrupt transition from "I can't do that" to "I CAN do that and since I now know how to it's actually easy".

I think a lot of people get discouraged when they're unable to get through that transition on their own the first time they try it, and "I can't do that right" can be appear to be an impossible mountain to climb, even if you're not far from the top.

I think we need to be challenging kids from an early age to learn things that are "hard" so that they become intimately familiar with this progression from impossible to trivial. Too often I see kids these days try something that looks interesting to them a couple times and then decide "nah, that's too hard" and quit.

It's not specifically teaching perseverance, but more about learning to recognize that progress is almost never linear toward a goal and many times you won't recognize you've reached your goal until you're actually there.

Additionally, we ought to be able to get better at helping people fight through these places they get stuck, rather than just leaving them with a failing grade in a math class and a feeling that that they're not up to the task. Early recognition of students who are having difficulty and focused tutoring and other help getting through the hard parts to the point that they achieve their needed breakthrough.

I don't think any undergraduate subject should be so inherently difficult that anyone who can get into the university in the first place shouldn't be able to do well in it.

G.

Re:It's Impossible until it becomes Trivial... (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256269)

This!! Mod this up!

Effort vs. Reward (3, Insightful)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256017)

Here's a really crazy thought. A thought based on something that really pissed me off all through my schooling. At the end of the day, kids (which may or may not themselves be stupid) that took stupid, easy courses would earn better grades than those that busted their butt taking challenging courses. An "A" grade in physical education, or introductory algebra should most certainly NOT mean the same thing as an "A" in biology, or Calculus. It's unfair, and discouraging to those students that are truly accomplishing something. Why try so hard when you're surrounded by dumba**es taking slacker classes and pulling off better grades than you.

You need to teach incredible persistence (1)

DeathGrippe (2906227) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256051)

""If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared (PDF) to study science.""

Secondary and college students are subjected to only the most minimal of discouragement compared with what they will experience in the real world of academic and industrial science. Research progress is based on multiple failures, punctuated by brief, intense flashes of insight. There is a lot of chance involved, because there is a great deal of educated guesswork leading to theories and experiments.

High school, and college barely begin to prepare you for grad school and life in the real world.

Very important distinction needs to be made... (2)

Pollux (102520) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256063)

...Between what the research proves and the conclusions drawn from the research. I missed it the first time in the summary, and think this deserves highlighting:

The research concludes: "While math and science majors drew the most interest initially, not many students finished with degrees in those subjects...The students switched out [of math and science majors] because they were dissatisfied with their grades."

The author concludes from the research: "“If more science graduates are desired, the findings suggest the importance of policies at younger ages that lead students to enter college better prepared to study science."

That's quite the spin. If I could be so bold as to suggest a different conclusion...

Kids these days don't understand the meaning of the word fortitude.

Re:Very important distinction needs to be made... (1)

Dracul (598944) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256165)

The problem is the culture that means that everyone has to succeed and anything less than an 'A' is a failure of the school teacher not someone's little darling being a lazy shit who can't apply themselves because their entire life is based on getting anything they want rather than having to work for it. By the time these kids get to college/university many of them have no idea how to bang their head hard against a problem, fail, learn from that and do it again until they succeed. The idea that you might have to struggle for weeks or months with very little success or fake self-esteem boosts is completely alien to them. I suspect half the reason sections of first world societies have so much issue with immigrants is that many immigrants know how to work hard - its embarrassing for many in so called 'first world' countries to be reminded of what personal discipline and commitment look like...

Gotta love those scientists (1)

holophrastic (221104) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256075)

So, these scientists did studies on science and found one simple thing: "math is hard". Congrats.

And the "solution" is to train six year olds harder. Again, well done.

Perhaps, just maybe, there might be a better solution.

How does this differ from the past? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256093)

How does this differ from the past? The article doesn't address that at all. In the past, did a smaller percentage of STEM students dropout or switch to non-STEM majors? In the past were STEM graduates a larger or a smaller percentage of college graduates, and were they a larger or smaller percentage of people of a given age? Is there any objective evidence that there is a shortage of STEM graduates?

Without that information, this article is the usual "OMG, crisis! American education sucks!" hysteria that we've been hearing for decades. Not that that jibes with American prowess in science and technology, but lets not worry about a little things like that. A variant of this garbage is that everyone should study STEM (ignoring demand). Look, the USSR launched a satellite before us! We're gonna loose the Cold War! That was the "crisis" in 1957, and the nonsense hasn't abated since.

Don't ignore the study itself (5, Informative)

yurtinus (1590157) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256103)

Make sure you include the requisite grain of salt. The blog is based on a study from over a decade ago - performed at a liberal arts college. Quickly perusing the school's website, I do not see a strong emphasis on STEM programs (I don't even see a B.S. offered, even the CS degree is a B.A.).

Not that I entirely disagree with the premise, but I think a study at a school with a broader academic base would provide more worthwhile results.

Paradigm shift required! (1)

David Betz (2845597) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256113)

I was a Math major back in the day (though I regret not doing Physics or EE instead). The biggest things that I wish I were told were these: 1) You don't STUDY math and physics. You PRACTICE math and physics. 2) Don't worry about not knowing something. The next chapter is nothing if not examples of this chapter (this is especially true for Physics; this is also a better way of saying-- this chapter is a prerequisite for the next). Sadly, weekly tests DESTROY the ability for people to learn correctly in this model. 3) Your math teacher isn't rain man, s/he just did the work ahead of time. Most of the time you don't hope for an insight, but just recall a similar problem. Thus, again, you PRACTICE math... get the ninja skills going. 4) Reach the pareto point (80/20) as fast as possible, then hammer on that last bit as hard as you can. The next 5% is what's separating you from your peers. Of course, another 5% you are in the masters program. The next 5%, doctoral. The last 3% is post doc. The last 2% will be for a future generations.

"discovered an unexpected amount of _the_ work" ? (0)

MikeTheGreat (34142) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256121)

Unlike majoring in English, where anything goes, apparently

Science shows (1)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256139)

I wonder how many people watch science shows like Through the Wormhole, NOVA Science NOW et al. (which I regularly watch myself) and don't realize how much of the intricate background math is deliberately not shown/discussed to make the subject matter more engaging to the average viewer.

Revelation (0)

Anonymous Coward | 1 year,20 days | (#44256257)

Waw, you have to be really intelligent to really understand math and science!

And you needed a study to get this?

Correction (1)

Azure Flash (2440904) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256275)

Math and Science Popular Until Students Realize They Are Taught In The Most Boring And Ass-Backwards Way Possible

Real-world examples, shaky foundations (5, Interesting)

Cyrano de Maniac (60961) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256309)

While my intuition tells me that high school grads are, on the whole, not as well prepared as they should be, there is certainly some improvement that could be done at the college level.

One problem I faced on the path to my EE degree was that in mathematics classes and some engineering classes (particularly electromagnetic fields, communication systems theory, and stochastic signal analysis -- which of course are some of the most math/calculus heavy of the EE curriculum), was that I lacked an intellectual model of what the mathematics was accomplishing. While concepts like derivatives and integrals made a degree of sense because they could be related to velocity, acceleration, position, area, and volume, when I got to the point I was dealing with eigen-this and eigen-that and hermetian-something-or-others I had lost any real-world connection, and my understanding suffered as a result.

The most frustrating and poignant instance of this was the first day of my linear algebra class, which I was taking only as a pre-req for CS class on GUIs, which only needed it to the extent that rotation, translation, and scaling using matrices was involved, and I already knew that much. Anyway, the mathematics professor walks in and announces "I do not care, even one little bit, what this material is used for in the real world. I am here to instruct you in mathematics alone." I looked around the room. In a class of about 25, I believe there were 20 science/engineering students, 4 math students, and one photography major (she was one of those brilliant types who took upper level classes in sciences, math, philosophy, or anything else just for fun). I was somewhat incredulous at the professor's utter disregard for his students' background, abilities, and interests. And just as I expected the course was utterly miserable and tedious, and then there were the bad days.

I contrast that with the math classes I took for Calculus II-IV, and Numerical Systems Analysis. The professors (thank heavens I avoided graduate students) who taught those classes were totally on top of the situation, and made it very clear what we were trying to accomplish with real world examples, or at least didn't veer too incredibly far from intuitive models. I think it helped that in Calc II-IV I had the same professor all through, and he was teaching a pilot course that integrated calculators into the material, so there was a lot of approachable material throughout. This was a stark contrast from the previously mentioned Linear Algebra as well as the Differential Equations I courses.

To this day I hate Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, and I'm 100% convinced it's due to the terrible instructors I dealt with. Which is a shame, because I loved mathematics in high school, and would go beyond my coursework to explore what I could on my own without much additional help from my (incredible) high school teacher, and I had a blast doing it. If I hadn't developed a strong interest in aeronautics and computers I most likely would have pursued a math degree.

The biggest problem I faced throughout my mathematics education, as well as many engineering classes, is that as the course would progress it was building taller and taller upon a shaky foundation. While my arithmetic was bedrock, my algebra was concrete, and my trigonometry was 2x4 construction, the rest was a lot less solid. Calculus felt a lot like building with Tinker-toys, and by the time I got to anything past that it was toothpicks stuck together with Sticky-Tack. As more and more material was piled on top, a lot of it kept slipping off because the stuff underneath it was crumbling. I would have benefited greatly from either better construction (i.e. better instruction), or a lot more hands-on experience with those shaky bits such that they were strongly reinforced.

Path of least resistance... (1)

nbritton (823086) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256329)

It's not so much that it's hard, but that it takes longer to complete a science degree. Figuratively speaking, 1 credit hour in libral arts is like 0.1 hours in STEM courses. I think a lot of people come to realize that a degree is just a key for opening doors, and opt for the easiest degree that will accomplish their goals.

I totally understand in a way... (4, Insightful)

jo7hs2 (884069) | 1 year,20 days | (#44256339)

I started in college as a comp sci major. I already knew how to program in BASIC, C, and C++ with reasonable proficiency and was excited about the major. However, I had a string of lousy math teachers until high school and struggled with algebra. Oddly, I was always fine with trigonometry and statistics, and I never had issues with the logic part of programming (I'm an attorney now). I was drastically unprepared for college mathematics. Because comp sci majors weren't even allowed to take major-required coursework until they had various math prerequisites, I started behind. After I nearly failed a mid-term in math class I barely understood with a TA I literally could not comprehend, I dropped the class and the major. I retreated to my safe zone in history and eventually ended up in law school.

While I'm not disappointed with the way things worked out, since my hands give me trouble just with the typing I do for my job now, I do wonder how different my life could have been if one of my math teachers caught on that I was struggling before my senior year of high school. I finally had a good teacher that last year, and she pulled my aside after class and turned a D to an A, but it was too late by then. I just lacked the skills.

From my perspective, the biggest issue in math education, and really education in general, is grading with no follow up. If a student isn't getting it, failing them doesn't make them get it, and passing them with pity is even worse. This flaw in a lot of education was really hammered home to me in law school when a professor got frustrated her ENTIRE class failed an exam. If the whole class fails, it isn't the students...

Ironically, I always had amazing science teachers. They were always engaged and excited. I usually got good grades. But, one science teacher was the only teacher I ever had who picked up on the fact that I was being teased and then tried to do something about it. And, my aunt is a science teacher, so I may be biased.

My rambling point...they need to be catching the kids who are struggling in second to fifth grade. My math issues started with multiplication in elementary school. I was behind, and no one ever caught it because in our school system you could basically still pass if you didn't understand, provided you just got enough questions right and showed effort...and passing was all that mattered.
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