While grading midterms for Physics 8A, a GSI for the course noticed two very distinct traits in the exam that received the lowest score — all calculations were done by hand, and the student evidently forgot how to perform long division. There were very few mistakes involving addition, subtraction and multiplication, but division clearly became an issue for the calculator-less student.
“I knew something wasn’t right when I saw his answers had remainders, and when I looked closer, I noticed he didn’t even draw the division bracket the right way,” the GSI pointed out. A quick glimpse at his work indeed revealed division brackets drawn backwards, along with evidence of failed attempts at recalling important rules of division.
Decimals seemingly caused the most problems for the test-taker. He remembered that he needed to draw little loops, but he was unable to remember that those loops are used to illustrate moving the decimal, which he did not do.
“The student just drew these small curls across the page, but he didn’t apply them in any way,” continued the GSI. “He also nearly remembered to drop down zeros when the numbers don’t divide evenly, but instead he dropped down nines.”
The student, who chose to remain unnamed, defended himself by claiming, “I’m an art history major taking this class for a breadth requirement. I can’t even remember the last time I had to do long division by hand like that. Maybe six or seven years. It could’ve happened to anyone.”
Although only this one undergrad was exposed, the student insisted that there are likely countless UC Berkeley students who need to brush up on their elementary mathematics.
“I really blame it on society’s over-reliance on calculators and nonconscious beings in general. Our values as a civilization have gone out the window,” the student explained, while reminding us all that he’s a humanities major.
In a final effort to redeem himself, he left our interviewer with these words: “You can either interpret this as a boring story about how I forgot both my calculator and how to do long division or as an insightful lesson about what we truly value. Which one is a better headline?”
Contact Ryan Melvin at [email protected].