Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

I could not keep my self from posting and commenting on this article that I read in NY Times, which expresses the opinion that we should abandon algebra since it is responsible for high school students and freshmen college students dropping out. An immediate question is where did the author find the causal relation between the statistics he gives and the drop out rates? Bypassing this "detail", it is really socking to read all the opinions expressed in the rest of the article. If a person who has acquired the title "Dr" cannot understand the importance of math in the development of critical thought and imagination to a kid, then how should we expect our students to do so? He misses the point again in another place where he asks himself "How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?"; math is not about memorizing but it is about being able to think and (re)produce things. And I clearly do not think that math is the only class that helps students. When I was in high school in Greece I had to take nation wide examinations in History, Literature, Biology, Finance, Religion studies and many other "irrelevant" subjects in order to be evaluated if I was appropriate to study engineering! Even though it was an overkill I think it helps dramatically to develop a spherical personality. What do we really want? Do we want to make things easy for students in order to be happy, but also be ignorant and incapable of thinking or do we want them to develop complete personalities? Is it really that math is hard and teachers are not doing a good job or is it that teachers in other subjects simply do not care much and keep their subjects easy? For instance, I have graded many exams in my undergrad class where students are using things such as "u" instead of "you", "r" instead of "are" etc. Closing I want to bring up one of the comments below the article: "My kids are in high school right now, and I am dumb-founded that they are still teaching students the same subjects, in the same manner as was taught when I was in school." Basic knowledge does not change, math identities do not change and so on. What should we do for this? Maybe we should teach more modern subjects such as "How to watch TV". I would like to apologize if anyone feels insulted by my tone in this blogpost; clearly this is not my intention but I simply could not believe what I was reading (and I read this article a couple of times).

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How do social networks shape our lives ?

This very nice book from Christakis and Fowler, describes the fascinating story of how social networks facilitate the spread of a variety of events through people. Trends from emotions to physical appearance characteristics can flow through the social ties, whose structure can play an important role. A highly recommended book for those interested in social network analysis and its applications.