In which modernity is stupid

You may not be aware of this, if you’re not a math teacher or a middle school student: did you know you can just, like, Google any equation, and it will not only solve it for you but it’ll actually explain how to do it? I’ve talked about calculators here before, and my policy remains more or less the same: that I allow calculators on any assignment where calculation is not the point, because I don’t want a kid’s issues with basic multiplication to get in the way when they’re trying to internalize the Pythagorean theorem.

This one is … a bit more annoying. I mean, sure, it explains how to do the problem, which is an actual advantage over calculators– it’s not like the calculator is going to walk you through the multiplication algorithm or anything like that– but the Venn diagram of the types of kids who are going to Google equations rather than solving them and the types of kids who will read explanations is two completely separate circles. Also, I’m a little hamstrung right now by the fact that I need to present my assignments on computers; the easiest way to ensure that more of them do the work properly is to simply present the assignment on paper and restrict device use during those classes. I could also require them to give me answers as decimals, since Google always puts theirs as fractions, but that’s just going to add a different confounding factor to my grades, dragging down the kids who don’t know how to convert fractions to decimals and the kids who don’t read directions.

There is also the possibility of simply writing more complicated assignments than a list of fifteen equations to solve, of course; I could do word problems or any number of other things, but the problem is the specific skill I need them to have actually is solving equations. I need them to understand the logic of modifying both sides of an equation at once, the idea that constants and variables alike can be moved willy-nilly from one side of an equals sign to the other as needed, so long as you follow the rules properly … because if they don’t get this shit at this easily-Googlable level, life’s going to suddenly get much harder in high school when they hit equations that you can’t, at least yet, easily feed into Google. I think anything requiring a superscript or any actual math symbology might be a problem, for example, although I haven’t tried to test that.

I’m going to choose to ignore this particular problem, for the moment. There are ten instructional days of school left and I have two days of equations practice planned before we get back into systems, and I’ll make sure to write those assignments so that they’re not as easily Googled. Frankly, most of the kids who are cheating have grades so deep into failing territory that it barely even matters, so I’m not going to waste the energy necessary to stress about it other than maybe barking at them about it tomorrow. It will, children, actually hurt you much more than it will ever hurt me if you don’t get this stuff. You may think I’m training you to solve equations, which, true, you are unlikely to be presented with as an adult! However, mastering basic fucking logic is a life skill, as it turns out.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.