In matters of math, details matter

When Reb Beatty, who teaches financial accounting at a community college in Maryland, told his students he would allow them to use one 3×5 card for the first test of the semester, he wasn’t as precise as he should have been. Math is all about precision.

Student Elijah Bowen brought in a 3 x 5 foot poster board with notes and calculations.

Beatty said he looked through the syllabus he wrote and nowhere did he indicate inches in instructions.

“Appreciating the fact that (a) he had the intelligence to realize this shortcoming and (b) the audacity to actually put this together and bring it in, there was no reason to not allow him to use it,” he said.

The student reportedly “did well” on the test although privacy laws prevented Beatty from saying how well.

  • wjc

    I love it!! I wonder if the student had a backup 3″ x 5″ card, in case the professor didn’t see his point.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      I suspect he has one, knowing this would be a one-shot wonder. 8^)

  • jon

    I had a “no calculator test” at one point in high school…
    They said nothing about slide rules… So I brought my mom’s old slide rule* (she had shown me how to use it a few months earlier) and was allowed to use it.

    I think it was a similar idea that since I went through the effort to learn how to use it…

    *Fancy thing with sine and cosine and such all on it…

  • Gary F

    Taking the rules that are given and making the best of it.

  • Jerry
  • KTFoley

    I hear my high school physics teacher now: “Units, people. Units!”

    A practical reminder for Irish soda bread recipes, Mars landings, and exam directions alike.

  • Jerry

    The 3×5 notecard is an old teacher’s Jedi mind trick. It’s about helping students study effectively. They have to figure out what, out of everything they’ve learned, they should put on that little card. In other words, they have to figure out what the most important stuff is. Then when they actually make the card, they get a little boost of thinking about all that important stuff just a little more.

    This student kind of missed the point. How much studying time did he waste making that huge thing? And how much exam time did he lose trying to find what he needed in that jumble?

    I’m glad to hear he did well, but I’m not sure that great big poster board was the reason.

    • Paul

      Studying time wasted, what an oxymoron.

      • Jerry

        When I was just out of college, I worked at Inver Hills Community College helping students in remedial math classes. I’ve had a busy life since then, but working at that community college was the most rewarding part of my career by far. I remember one student in particular who would come to my office hours in her McDonald’s uniform, all stressed out from trying to support her kids with that job while going to community college at the same time. She was the most motivated student I ever had, because she clearly understood that doing well in my class was the way she was going to improve her life and the lives of her kids.

        I guarantee you, the time she spent studying was not wasted.

        • A few years ago I did a thing every Wednesday at a different community college, interviewing kids about their dreams and reasons for being where they are. It was inspirational.

        • Paul

          Then we are in agreement – time spent studying is not wasted 🙂

          • Jerry

            Ha! I don’t know what I thought when I read your comment! Sorry 🙂

          • Paul

            I re-read what you typed, and further understand it as he could have been studying instead of making the poster board. I was thinking he *was* studying while putting together the material for the poster board.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      From the look of things his note “card” seems to be organized and instead of trying read your own very small handwriting in the corner of the card he had it all legible in front of him.

      • Jerry

        That’s true, but he still has to wade through a ton of useless information to find the important stuff.

        • Jack Ungerleider

          That assumes he actually used the notes during the test.

          • wjc

            Exactly! The act of creating the “card” may have made looking at it less necessary.

    • @Jerry: Our high school geometry teacher required us to have a 5″x7″ index card, for the very reason you state: figuring out what among all the theorems and postulates we were learning were the most important to “remember”. His logic was “You’ll be using one in college; might as well learn, now, how to do it well.” He even went so far as to periodically review/critique its content and base 5% of our grade on it. And, yes, we could use it during it tests.

      I was, and still am, no math wiz. I hated to do homework and, as a result, did poorly grade-wise each quarter. But, because I did learn what was important for long-term knowledge and learned to print very, very small notes on my card, I got a B+ on the final exam. And a lesson in life, too.

      Small-world addendum: I attended an international school in Japan. My geometry teacher also hailed from Minnesota.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I had a Calculus professor who said something like this to me after I did poorly on his first test (most of the class did poorly), “You can do better than this. You’re problem is that you are sloppy in your thinking. Be more precise in your work and you will do fine in this class.”

    I have carried that lesson with me the past 38 years. I’m still sloppy sometimes in my thinking, but I try hard not to be.

    • wjc

      When I was a Chemistry TA and was grading an exam, there was a question concerning how far on average one oxygen molecule traveled before bumping into another. One student came up with an answer that was approximately the diameter of the galaxy.

      This was one of those times when the student needed to be less sloppy in his thinking. If he would have thought about what the answer needed to be logically, it would have been clear that he must have done something wrong. That has always been the first step in problem solving. Figure out the basic size and scope and then attack it. My student missed that first step.