Title: Please Check Your Answers with the Given Answers!

Date Written: Monday, September 15, 2003

Date Occurred: September 11-15, 2003

Written by: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) 2003 by Joel T. Kant


Teaching mathematics gives me more appreciation for Dr. Gray and many of my other excellent professors over the years. I think something that helped them is I remember almost all of my fellow electrical engineering students as being hard-working, intelligent, and persistent.

I find it is so much more fun teaching when the students work hard and do well. When I look at homework that I have to grade for the three math courses that I am teaching...sigh. It is enough to make me want to cry. The problems in the homework I graded this weekend had the answers to every problem given in the students' books. Right after the problems are listed, the answers are given on the same page. This means one does not have to flip to the back of the book for an appendix. For homework number three, I assigned sixteen problems with a week to do them. All sixteen problems had the correct answer given on the same page.

Some scores: 15, 11, 15, 16, 14, 12, 15, 3, 15, 9, 1, 15, and 16.

How can they get answers to problems wrong when the answer is printed just after the problems on the same page? I have mentioned it many times in lecture already to check their work with the solutions given in their book!

About a quarter of the students did not even turn in a homework, bringing down the average.

This is a vast improvement over homework number one and number two. Homework one had 8 problems. I had scores like 2 of 8, 4 of 8, 3 of 8, and so on. Homework two had 40 problems, but I stressed hard to check the answers were in their book. I got a lot of scores like 24 of 40, 18 of 40, 22 of 40, and so on. However, a few students caught on about the answers being there, so had scores in the range of 36 to 40 of 40. Four of the problems had no solutions in the book. However, what was written often indicated the answers were merely copied without any work being done.

My youngest brother joked...or maybe it is not a joke...that in order to get typical percentages of students getting A's, B's, and C's, I should print the answers to the test on the test itself, just after the last question! This would be just like the homework problems. It might not be a joke because my brother might be correct!

These are not long problems, by the way. Here are some actual examples from homework number two:

(I am using * for multiplication since harder to make a proper multiplication symbol in simple ASCII)

2 * (3 * 5) = (2 * 3) * 5 demonstrates what property?

[Associative Property of multiplication. Probably more than half the class got this problem wrong. I kept getting 30 = 30 as the answer without any property being named. Remember, THEIR book lists the correct answer, spelled out properly!]

A ream of paper has 500 sheets. How many sheets are in 29 reams?

[500*29=14,500 sheets. Again, the answer is in their book. Perhaps a fifth of the students got that one

wrong. I gave full credit for just "14,500" without units. Some added 500 and 29.]

6 + 9 / 3 = ?

[Actually, the slash was a division sign of a horizonal line with a dot above and below. I do not know how to type that. It seemed about a third of the students took 6 + 9 to get 15, then divided by 3 to get 5. Yet, I had mentioned about half a dozen times in class in giant letters across the board about order of operations. Over and over, I talked about that and gave examples. Yet, it seemed a big challenge for the students to come up with the right answer of 9. Yet, remember, just after the problem in their book, it gives them that the correct answer for this problem is 9!]

4 + 5 * 0 = ?

[Again, about a third of the class gave zero as an answer, not the correct answer of 4. I thought I had beaten the order of operations to death in lectures, but apparently not enough yet. However, they have in their book that the correct answer is 4! Do they not believe their book answer? Are students not bothering to look at their book's answer for the problem?]

By the way, for problems this simple and short, it is hard to do much in terms of partial credit. A student might write out 4 + 5 * 0 = 9 * 0 = 0, but it is still totally wrong. For the problem with the Associative Property of multiplication as an answer, a fair number of students answered Commutative Property. At least they realized the question asked for the name of a property. However, still no partial credit for saying the Commutative Property since the answer is Associative Property.

I am feeling somewhat disheartened. In a way, I feel like I must have failed as a teacher since so little comprehension is shown for things like order of operations. Yet, I do not feel like taking the blame for students who won't check their answers with the correct answers given in their book!


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