# Math is dead. Long live math!January 30, 2008 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Do you think students should stop learning fractions (and long division)? I happen to think that it is important for students to gain fluency in basic math skills - not only for school's sake, but for life skills. I am a former high school math teacher who has seen some pretty weird coping strategies by students who did not learn how to perform long division...
posted by Smilla to Science & Nature (17 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Yep, pretty much chatfilter. -- cortex

Uh...
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:01 PM on January 30, 2008

What dirtynumbangelboy said.
posted by grouse at 5:02 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't get how people are going to understand decimals without understanding fractions. Being a master of long division isn't necessary, but you should at least know how it works.
posted by ignignokt at 5:04 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Holy snarky comments! I actually wonder what people think about this. Obviously I think it's not a good idea, but I understand that some people think that we should move beyond rote computational skills. Do any of you think it's OK to just use calculators and computers? Because that's what's starting to happen.
posted by Smilla at 5:12 PM on January 30, 2008

How can you understand the concepts behind the math if you've only ever used a calculator?
What happens when they have to divide polynomials?
posted by rancidchickn at 5:14 PM on January 30, 2008

Chat filter?

Fractions are important once you start doing equations and have to find unknowns. Of course things can be converted to decimals, but it doesn't always make as much sense.
posted by 517 at 5:16 PM on January 30, 2008

Without fractions, I would be unable to express the odds of any given kid getting the hell off my lawn.
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2008 [6 favorites]

To explain the snark: when you posted this question, you may have noticed on the posting page the following:

"If you are new to Ask Metafilter, please read the guidelines and the FAQ. AskMe questions should have a purpose, goal, or problem to be solved. Open-ended chatty questions that don't offer a problem to be solved are detrimental to the long term usefulness of the site."

While your question is thought-provoking, it is also open-ended and chatty, and begins by stating your opinion and asking for people to agree with it. That is fine for some forums, but it is not what Ask Metafilter is for.
posted by googly at 5:21 PM on January 30, 2008

Perhaps the question could have been better worded to avoid the snark- "I think learning fractions is essential. Can someone explain why there's such a big push to leave them out of the curriculum?"

To the question though, I agree with you. If you don't understand the logic behind what a computer's doing, you can't really master it. It's the same with most programs- you can often use them without knowing what it is that they're doing exactly, but without that knowledge you'll struggle to overcome any problems or think creatively with it.

For example, I'm a geologist and use imaging programs sometimes. It's just a matter of clicking a button to get a new interpretation of an image that can help to identify structures or zones, but if you don't understand the process behind that calculation you wont be as adept at using it as someone who does.
posted by twirlypen at 5:27 PM on January 30, 2008

Googly - I guess you're right. I am curious about people's opinions - not really looking for a definitive answer. But I'm not actually looking for people to agree with me. I just wanted to hear arguments for the proposal. Sorry to annoy/piss off veteran MeFiers...
posted by Smilla at 5:28 PM on January 30, 2008

Have you people ever heard of "flag and move on"?

Anyway, I personally don't see any reason to for kids to actually do long division. I mean it might be nice to teach the concepts behind it, but really there will never be a need for them to do it in their real lives. Since long division requires the use of a pencil and paper, which are no more common then a calculator these days. So what's the point?

Teach kids how to do math in their heads, and teach them how to use a calculator. I don't think there is too much of a need to teach kids pencil/paper methods, any more then there is a need to teach them slide-rule or abacus methods.
posted by delmoi at 5:31 PM on January 30, 2008

To the question though, I agree with you. If you don't understand the logic behind what a computer's doing, you can't really master it.

Well, computers are definitely not doing long division or decimal fractions behind the scenes. So learning those things would be the opposite of learning the logic behind what a computer is doing.

Now, I actually think kids should learn binary arithmetic. Kids should have the chance to learn more about the contours and shape of mathematics, rather then bashing their head against one spot over and over again.
posted by delmoi at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2008

No apologies necessary. In fact, I should apologize for my knee-jerk snarkiness.

The guideline against chatfilter is not meant to discourage thoughtful questions, but to prevent AskMe from becoming inundated by chatty hypotheticals. twirlypen has a good suggestion for reframing this question. See also this recent question, which isn't ideal but is a more appropriate way of framing a similar kind of question.
posted by googly at 5:35 PM on January 30, 2008

How can you understand the concepts behind the math if you've only ever used a calculator?
What happens when they have to divide polynomials?

I couldn't do long division to save my life when I got to middle school, but I never had a problem dealing with polynomial fractions. Division, multiplication, whatever. It wasn't a problem for me. Now I had learned those things but I had promptly forgotten them. When I started taking algebra classes I relearned the fraction stuff right away, and never used anything that seemed like long division.
posted by delmoi at 5:38 PM on January 30, 2008

How can you understand the concepts behind the math if you've only ever used a calculator?

Long division is another calculator. It's a set of instructions that a student can use to learn how to divide numbers but it does not teach them what division is. The trend is to assign problems that can be solved by conceptualizing division. Word problems, to oversimplify. if you know what it means to divide things, the concept, you'll work out how to divide when you need to and be able to build on that knowledge. If you know how to do long division, you'll know how to do long division.

But, yeah, Poorly framed question.
posted by dirtdirt at 5:38 PM on January 30, 2008

There may be certain professions where long division and hand-written fractions come in handy. But I have been out of High School for nearly 20 years, and I have never needed to know long division since I was in a High School class where I was required to do it. I want to go back and kick every math teacher who ever said that long division was needed for "life skills."
posted by The World Famous at 5:46 PM on January 30, 2008

This IS chatfilter, but I will provide my feedback before this is inevitably deleted. Long division, in the age of calculators, is indeed utterly useless. However, I've found knowing how to work with fractions in my head to be very useful. How? Recipe conversion, mostly -- adjusting ingredient quantities when I increase or decrease the number of servings a recipe is calculated to provide. That's about it, I'm afraid, but it does come in handy in real life.
posted by tigerbelly at 5:56 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

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