## South African Skeptics

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# How dropping maths as a compulsory subject will harm SA

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Mefiante
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In solidarity with rwenzori: Κοπρος φανεται

 « Reply #15 on: July 18, 2017, 07:29:54 AM »

Teaching basic maths in SA—an insider’s view—echoing several of brianvds’s points.

'Luthon64
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brianvds
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 « Reply #16 on: July 18, 2017, 08:35:57 AM »

Teaching basic maths in SA—an insider’s view—echoing several of brianvds’s points.

'Luthon64

So I'm not the only bad, crazy teacher out there... :-)

One of the things that bother me about this constant talk of upgrading teachers' skills and training is this: among the more successful teachers achieve what they do precisely because they have learned to ignore their "training" (or received no "training" in the first place), and the syllabus along with it. I achieved at least mild success at getting math into some primary school heads by throwing out the textbook in its entirety, and instead teach the kids math the way I learned it in grade 6 in the 1970s from Mrs. Smit, a tannie who knew exactly what she was doing, dominee's wife or not.

To echo what the writer of the article says, some skills have to be drilled and drilled and drilled; there is no other way. Mrs Smit drilled us mercilessly, with the aid of a length of cane when necessary, and I am grateful to her to this day. Alas, nowadays no one likes it, because it is "mindless"  and "not creative". Add that utter curse of the modern school, the calculator, and you have a whole generation of kids who absolutely, flatly, categorically, refuse to learn their tables.

Still, it soon became clear that there are limits to what kids can do if they had been neglected for the first ten years of their lives. Even the small minority who worked very hard seldom scored above 60% or so, which is simply not enough to take to high school math.

I seem to be one of the few who are actually in favour of math lit, although we may need to approach it a bit differently. We need to start streaming the kids earlier than grade 10, I suspect. If you do not get at least 70% for grade 7 math, you will almost certainly never understand high school math. So such kids should in effect repeat grade 6 and 7 math over and over until, by the time they reach matric, they not only get it but can actually apply it. A person who can apply grade 7 math will have a skill few South Africans currently possess.

Alas, by the time the kids are pushed into math lit in grade 10, they have developed a comprehensive math block. Also, they have been out of the math loop since somewhere in primary school, and have in effect not been doing any math for some years, and now they are suddenly expected to understand all of primary school math plus some basic algebra.

Well, they stand no chance, not even with math lit. I currently have some pupils who fall into this category. Fortunately I am no longer at a formal school; I now work part time for a sort of home school center, where we only have one or two kids per class and where the owner is bright enough to understand that you simply cannot hop, skip and jump grades when it comes to math. So in the case of our grade ten kid who doesn't even understand grade four maths (we know because we gave her a grade 4 exam paper on which she scored something like 17%) she told the parents that there will be no other choice but to start right at the beginning. Even that is proving to be an uphill battle.

Usual story: kid has been neglected since birth, and in fact was recently removed from the care of her mother after being outright abused. You cannot get to school full of bruises you got from mom and then just sail through math, methinks, and no amount of tweaking the syllabus is going to make a difference there.

English grammar question:
Which is correct:
One of the things that bother me...   or
One of the things that bothers me...

Would 'bother' refer to the things or to one of them? I don't think I'll ever quite get English. Why? Because it ain't my mother tongue, that's why. I started too late. And if a reasonably intelligent bloke like me, who was not abused or neglected, and has been speaking and reading and writing English for four decades, still struggles with basic concepts, then that gives you an idea of what chance a kid stands with math, if that kid has been suffering severe neglect both at home and at school, all his life.
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Mefiante
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In solidarity with rwenzori: Κοπρος φανεται

 « Reply #17 on: July 18, 2017, 09:08:13 AM »

By common usage much more than strict grammar, “One of the things that bothers me is…” is (more) correct.  A pedantic OCD grammarian nanny (e.g., M\$ Word) would correctly maintain that bother should be used because it refers to a plurality of things.  It should be clearer when you rephrase a little: “Of the things that bother me, one is…”

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brianvds
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 « Reply #18 on: July 18, 2017, 09:38:58 AM »

By common usage much more than strict grammar, “One of the things that bothers me is…” is (more) correct.  A pedantic OCD grammarian nanny (e.g., M\$ Word) would correctly maintain that bother should be used because it refers to a plurality of things.  It should be clearer when you rephrase a little: “Of the things that bother me, one is…”

'Luthon64

I never really bothered to learn the formal rules of English grammar. I sort of absorbed them by lots of reading, so at school I never studied for English exams. When grammar tests came up I just used my intuition, and mostly scored well. What I do notice with English grammar though is that there are, here and there, cases where strictly following the correct grammar somehow sounds wrong. Which is perhaps why, in these cases, common usage often diverges from the 'correct' form.

It is a whole different can of worms, this question of the extent to which grammar should be controlled by the proletariat as opposed to the official grammar Nazis. On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

In other cases, I think the unwashed masses actually have a point. E.g. I have long thought that strict application of the apostrophe rules sometimes leads to confusion. Take these two sentences:

A's are the only grades I want to see on your report.
As are the only grades I want to see on your report.

The second one is correct, but inevitably forces the reader to do a little double-take to work out what is meant. I cannot think of other examples right now, but I have seen some. I have noticed that among pulp fiction writers, such formal apostrophe 'errors' are now more and more the norm when it will improve readability.

Ah, here's another example:

Write all the lowercase as, is and us as neatly as you can.
Write all the lowercase a's, i's and u's as neatly as you can.

One could of course also write:
Write all the lowercase As, Is and Us as neatly as you can.

But even here I think this would look better and more natural:
Write all the lowercase A's, I's and U's as neatly as you can.
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Mefiante
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In solidarity with rwenzori: Κοπρος φανεται

 « Reply #19 on: July 18, 2017, 09:50:47 AM »

Actually, it’s not correct.  A single letter is one of the rare exceptions in English where the plural demands an apostrophe.  Lynne Truss makes it clear in her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

'Luthon64
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st0nes
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 « Reply #20 on: July 18, 2017, 09:52:07 AM »

In other cases, I think the unwashed masses actually have a point. E.g. I have long thought that strict application of the apostrophe rules sometimes leads to confusion. Take these two sentences:

A's are the only grades I want to see on your report.
As are the only grades I want to see on your report.

The second one is correct,...
No, the first is correct. It is an exception to the NO APOSTROPHES IN PLURALS rule. Exeption is there to avoid the ambiguity you point out.
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brianvds
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 « Reply #21 on: July 18, 2017, 11:47:10 AM »

Well there ya go - I have been lending my ears to people writing stuff on the web.

Incidentally, do we write "1's, 2's and 3's" or "1s, 2s and 3s"? I find that whether or not it looks awkward or difficult to read depends to some extent on the font you are using.

To summarize: if there are rules that make for awkward language, we should ignore them. But writing things like "I would of" just makes you look like the uneducated hillbilly you are. :-)
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st0nes
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 « Reply #22 on: July 18, 2017, 12:15:11 PM »

Incidentally, do we write "1's, 2's and 3's" or "1s, 2s and 3s"? I find that whether or not it looks awkward or difficult to read depends to some extent on the font you are using.
Here is what the CMOS has to say on the subject:--
Quote from: Chicago Manual of Style
9.54 PLURAL NUMBERS
Spelled-out numbers form their plurals as other nouns do (see 7.5).
The contestants were in their twenties and thirties.
The family was at sixes and sevens.
Numerals form their plurals by adding s. No apostrophe is needed.
Among the scores were two 240s and three 238s.
Jazz forms that were developed in the 1920s became popular in the 1930s.
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BoogieMonster
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 « Reply #23 on: July 19, 2017, 10:53:44 AM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.
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brianvds
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 « Reply #24 on: July 19, 2017, 11:38:01 AM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.

Another one I ran into the other day: an otherwise very well educated American telling me about "tied-in-the-wool conservatives". I would of liked to correct him, but I didn't have the heart. Anyway, I could care less about dem Yanks.  :-)

Ah, and another amusing one: a person guilty of deceipt. A deceipt is what Zuma gives the public protector instead of receipt. But I see deceipt is actually an archaic and obsolete form, so it's at least half a word.

Oh well, I am constantly guilty hideous spelling and grammar errors, so I try not to be too much of a grammar Nazi. It does make for a pleasant distraction from the generally catastrophic news about our education system.
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st0nes
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 « Reply #25 on: July 19, 2017, 14:58:13 PM »

On the one hand, they can be a bit, well, Nazi. On the other, there are errors that give me the creeps, such as the very common confusing of they're, there and their, or saying things like "I would of liked to do it" (an expression very common among Americans).

I'm all for keeping the formal rules on those. It really is not that difficult, if you're omitting letters use an apostrophe, and lern to spel.

Americans just suck at English. Some of my favorites are "axe you a question", "expresso", and "I could care less". But I've found I could even teach South Africans whom consider themselves grammar Nazis a thing or two about the Oxford comma used in the previous sentence.

Oxford commas are useful for avoiding ambiguity.  But they should always go inside the quotes...
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Tweefo
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 « Reply #26 on: July 20, 2017, 09:23:13 AM »

Back to dropping maths. In an ideal world, you would get this. From my Wiki page this morning.

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Spike
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 « Reply #27 on: July 20, 2017, 09:39:50 AM »

it is almost certain they will only find out about the building blocks of education when it is much too late.

Mefi, thanks for that article, it illustrates the point I tried to make that when I had a crap teacher one year, I had to battle the next year to understand new work, and the problem got exponentially greater every year.

One of the things that bother me about this constant talk of upgrading teachers' skills and training is this: among the more successful teachers achieve what they do precisely because they have learned to ignore their "training" (or received no "training" in the first place), and the syllabus along with it. I achieved at least mild success at getting math into some primary school heads by throwing out the textbook in its entirety, and instead teach the kids math the way I learned it in grade 6 in the 1970s from Mrs. Smit, a tannie who knew exactly what she was doing, dominee's wife or not.

To echo what the writer of the article says, some skills have to be drilled and drilled and drilled; there is no other way. Mrs Smit drilled us mercilessly, with the aid of a length of cane when necessary, and I am grateful to her to this day. Alas, nowadays no one likes it, because it is "mindless"  and "not creative". Add that utter curse of the modern school, the calculator, and you have a whole generation of kids who absolutely, flatly, categorically, refuse to learn their tables.

Cheers, Brian.

As a side note, I wonder whether different teaching methods for different generations may account for this: Whenever my mom and I went bargain hunting for groceries together, I always calculated the prices per kg, and she tallied up sub-totals and total. Her adding & subtraction skills were uncanny considering the clamor and distractions. I literally used her as a walking calculator because I could only ever get to an approximation by rounding. She, however, found it harder to calculate the price per kg which is a simple thing if you know the tables.
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Spike
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 « Reply #28 on: July 20, 2017, 10:07:44 AM »

FYI, the dumbing down of math students/standards does not occur only in schools. A few years ago I decided to do a 'refresher' maths course with UNISA. Although my matric qualification is acceptable for most university courses, I know my math skills are weak and I wanted to step back and improve it.

1. The text books provided just a very brief discussion of each lesson with just one or sometimes two examples - not enough to ensure that the student will grasp the concept.  This is distance education - you can't ask random questions!
2. They only provided 2 or 3 exercises for each lesson/concept
3. No further exercises were available, even though I requested assistance.
4. On 3 occasions during 6 months, after laboriously doing external research to make sure I had actually mastered the lessons (remember.. my building blocks just ain't there) and handing in assignments, the results came back with ... "due to the problems many students experienced, this assignment will not count towards your final marks."

I didn't bother with the exam.

PS. This was a bridging course for future science students..
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brianvds
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 « Reply #29 on: July 20, 2017, 11:37:55 AM »

FYI, the dumbing down of math students/standards does not occur only in schools. A few years ago I decided to do a 'refresher' maths course with UNISA. Although my matric qualification is acceptable for most university courses, I know my math skills are weak and I wanted to step back and improve it.

1. The text books provided just a very brief discussion of each lesson with just one or sometimes two examples - not enough to ensure that the student will grasp the concept.  This is distance education - you can't ask random questions!
2. They only provided 2 or 3 exercises for each lesson/concept
3. No further exercises were available, even though I requested assistance.
4. On 3 occasions during 6 months, after laboriously doing external research to make sure I had actually mastered the lessons (remember.. my building blocks just ain't there) and handing in assignments, the results came back with ... "due to the problems many students experienced, this assignment will not count towards your final marks."

I didn't bother with the exam.

PS. This was a bridging course for future science students..

How long ago was that? I did something similar through Unisa around 2010 or thereabouts, and the course was excellent: they prescribed a very good textbook, the book's examples and explanations were very clear and the exercises numerous and challenging.

But it is true that Unisa has gone down the tubes; I wouldn't bother with them anymore. I know lots of people who have tried studying through Unisa, and they all complain that both the teaching and administration have gotten so bad that it has become pretty much impossible to learn anything from there.

It's sad to see. I originally did my B degree through Unisa in the early 1990s, and they were absolutely brilliant. There were NEVER even the slightest administrative mess-ups, and the quality of the teaching was superb. In all the courses, they prescribed one or more textbooks, and they specifically chose excellent textbooks. They then also issued students with a study guide that explained some concepts, but mostly just contained very clear instructions on how to use the textbooks, which bits would be important, etc. And then you also had to do a certain number of assignments. These never got lost somewhere in their system, and they were never late in marking and returning them. Where necessary, lecturers would write comments etc.

Then, also around 2010, when I started teaching, I tried to do that infernal postgrad teaching certificate. A few months in I gave up. For one thing, the courses had preciously little to do with teaching; it was mostly just propaganda about how bad the system was under apartheid and how change was essential. For another, to the extent that they said anything at all about such things as teaching, preparing lessons etc, there was no guidance AT ALL. There was no prescribed textbook on it and no study guide. Out of the blue you had to prepare sample lessons and curricula etc, and when I got my assignments back, they were marked but had no comments of any kind. For the first time in my entire academic career I barely scraped through assignments (that's right - not exams but mere assignments) because I could't for the life of me work out what was expected, and all queries went unanswered.

I eventually gave up on it: the coursework was the most spectacularly boring load of crap I have ever seen and wasn't helping me at all. It also occurred to me that the people who presented this course were all supposed experts in education, i.e. in how to get course material across to students. But they were worse at it than any of my biology lecturers, who had no qualifications in education (but were very well qualified indeed in the subjects they were teaching).

I concluded that education is a pseudo-subject, and a degree or certificate in education a pseudo-qualification. This was richly confirmed to me when I observed my fully qualified colleagues at various schools: some could teach well, some could not teach at all, and the 'qualification' in education made no difference at all. If anything, it possibly actually made them worse at it, because it contaminates the mind with all kinds of crap for which there may or may not be any evidence. (As an aside, Nassim taleb warns against doing such things as reading newspapers or doing an MBA degree, precisely because it contaminates the mind and makes you actually worse off than if you had done nothing.)

Of course, not being "fully qualified"  means I can never be appointed at any government school, but that is something for which I am increasingly grateful... :-)

Now here's another thing that bothers me about the education department's attempts at improving things: they often go an and on about how they are going to make sure all teachers are "fully qualified." By which they presumably mean that they'll make sure everyone has a B. Ed. or a postgrad certificate. Well, good luck trying to improve education that way...
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