The right answer does matter

Math Curmudgeon is listing “things we need you to stop saying.” Number 1: “The right answer isn’t important. It’s knowing what you’re doing.” The right answer is the whole point of doing the problem … has always been, is now, and will always be, the Curmudgeon argues.  The “knowing what you are doing part” leads to the right answer. If it doesn’t, then you don’t know what you are doing.

What we should be saying is “The right answer is vitally important … so important that we also want students to explain the method and how we all know the answer is correct; they must be able to detect an error if it occurs and describe how to fix it so that the solution IS correct.”

“You can’t detect errors unless you know the right answer, or at least have a sense of what that right answer should be,” the Curmudgeon writes.

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  1. What a surprise, I again agree with Curmudgeon completely 🙂

    Another one I “like”, and this one shows up on IEPs or 504 plans periodically, is “student shall verbally explain the process” instead of actually having to do a problem. I myself know that this isn’t a good gauge of understanding–in my master’s classes I can explain, in beautiful detail, how to do a problem, and sound like I’m an expert, but it’s the doing that sometimes trips me up. Understanding is necessary, but not sufficient, for doing–you actually have to *do*, *and* get the right answer.

  2. I’ve said it before: one of the reasons I liked math as a kid was that there were clear right and wrong answers. Won’t people think of the literal-minded children who need something that’s black and white in their lives?

  3. ricki – Yes the black and white clarity of mathematics is comforting in a complicated and confusing world.