# appropriate hints

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by ic3g1rl, Aug 11, 2011.

1. ### ic3g1rl

Having followed DM's link to the student room, and then looked around at the sort of posts on there it struck me that, perhaps, it isn't always obvious what sort of reply is appropriate to give people.
I'll illustrate what I mean from an example, which I've probably not remembered that well but it covers the basic idea. I was looking at a thread where someone had a cubic expression split up into 2 factors, (x^2+4)(x-1) or something like that. The student was stuck trying to prove the equation only had one real root. By looking at the factors you could see there were 2 complex roots and the one real root. A suggestion was given to look at the cubic equation and consider it's maximum and minimum points and what was happening to the curve. If you did this you would clearly see why the curve only had one real root but it seems like a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Other people suggested looking at the factors, although some posters got their x and y's muddled up. The point I'm trying to make is because people have no idea at which point this student was stuck they were having to make suggestions that may or may not help.
As another example, on the NCETM maths cafe forum, sorry I have no idea how to link to it, there was a problem posted connected with sequences having certain properties. One of the posters mentioned that they had found lots of sequences, that occured in primary school, but never mentioned what they were. I found this really frustrasting as there was no indication of what she meant.
So my thread is really about how do we make posts as relevant as we can for others to gain from them. We have no real idea where the posters are coming from, nor what would help them, and perhaps this may be why people don't post and instead lurk.

2. ### ic3g1rl

Having followed DM's link to the student room, and then looked around at the sort of posts on there it struck me that, perhaps, it isn't always obvious what sort of reply is appropriate to give people.
I'll illustrate what I mean from an example, which I've probably not remembered that well but it covers the basic idea. I was looking at a thread where someone had a cubic expression split up into 2 factors, (x^2+4)(x-1) or something like that. The student was stuck trying to prove the equation only had one real root. By looking at the factors you could see there were 2 complex roots and the one real root. A suggestion was given to look at the cubic equation and consider it's maximum and minimum points and what was happening to the curve. If you did this you would clearly see why the curve only had one real root but it seems like a sledge hammer to crack a nut. Other people suggested looking at the factors, although some posters got their x and y's muddled up. The point I'm trying to make is because people have no idea at which point this student was stuck they were having to make suggestions that may or may not help.
As another example, on the NCETM maths cafe forum, sorry I have no idea how to link to it, there was a problem posted connected with sequences having certain properties. One of the posters mentioned that they had found lots of sequences, that occured in primary school, but never mentioned what they were. I found this really frustrasting as there was no indication of what she meant.
So my thread is really about how do we make posts as relevant as we can for others to gain from them. We have no real idea where the posters are coming from, nor what would help them, and perhaps this may be why people don't post and instead lurk.

3. ### afterdarkOccasional commenter

When I do post, there are often many very personal attacks. I find it very irrational. Many things in teaching math seem so deeply ingrained that people do not provide rational justification. Also sometimes seem to be deliberately misleading and/or argumentative. Not in a constructive way either.
I do understand the frustration of not getting the whole question. The limitations of the text editor on here don't help either.

4. ### googolplexOccasional commenter

You can make a post as clear as you like. What you can never control are the ways in which different people choose to read it, and the inferences they choose to draw from certain aspects.
Regarding personal aspects, this forum has always been a place for petty, mindless quarrelling - almost like some people don't get enough of it in their day job...! If you can move beyond that, then it's always been an interesting and, professionally, extremely useful place to hang out...

5. ### D Franklin

* DIsclaimer: I moderate the Maths forum at TSR *

Not sure that's the best example, because the person making the suggestion about maximum and minimum points had misread the question. Basically he assumed it was a cubic of form x^3+ax^2+bx+c (and that it was not easy to factorize).. And I'd say the advice given was appropriate for that type of problem, albeit overkill for the question actually asked.

But as for the more general issue of not knowing where people are stuck; yes, it's a problem. Worst for this are the people who post exam questions with 10 parts verbatim, and you have no idea if they're stuck on part A or part J.

TSR also has an ethos of not posting full solutions. In general I think this is a good thing, and the "stubborn" part of me doesn't want to post a full solution just because someone isn't picking up on the hints I give them. But (to give a recent example), when you've got someone revising what they sat for last years' uni exams who takes about 20 posts to correctly subtract one function from another, the frustration can show.

Not sure how relevant that is to this forum though. The participants being (generally) mature adults does make a difference.

I have to say that as a non-teacher, I don't find this forum particularly friendly, but I also figure that is largely my problem (by "invadiing" as a non-teacher).

6. ### DMNew commenter

You have been hanging around with those young people too long DF. Thought you might like to use your tag as your avatar.

7. ### pipipi

This forum can certainly be intimidating.
I can cause some of it. Especially when someone asks for a lesson plan for a job interview and they haven't thought about ti at all. And then don't say thanks. But that's my particular high horse I've climbed on without bolting the stable door.

Sometimes you have to be quite clever to ask the correct question. Or very specific. As in the cubic question.

I think the time taken to answer could easily depend on who asks (if you know them and like them).

9. ### bombaysapphireStar commenter

I must have been lucky with my timing. I have always found this forum very friendly. I see the bickering but manage to steer clear.
There has been one exception in the years I have been posting but that appears to be all over now thank goodness!

10. ### DMNew commenter

Forget the woman jumping from the building, that is Picture Of The Week.

11. ### ic3g1rl

I hadn't intended to criticise TSR as I was impressed with what I saw there. I also wasn't really trying to get more people to voice general discontent, I felt that had already been covered elsewhere.

But as for the more general issue of not knowing where people are stuck; yes, it's a problem. Worst for this are the people who post exam questions with 10 parts verbatim, and you have no idea if they're stuck on part A or part J.

This was really what I was trying to get at. One of the aspects of communicating on forums is trying to understand what the other person is getting at. Several posts have mentioned that it would be a good thing for primary teachers to post here and that seems a very good thing to me. However, we perhaps need to try to think about the questions they pose not from our own understanding but from what may have motivated the question in the first place.
As an example, during the first day of my primary placement the teacher placed up a suduko puzzle for the class to solve. I quickly wrote down the grid and started to fill it in. The class started to suggest where numbers should go. When I looked up I saw numbers had been incorrectly placed. I though the teacher would point out these errors when a contradiction occurred. But, instead, the puzzle was abandoned when this happened. Later, I asked the teacher why the puzzle hadn't been filled in logically. I then spent half an hour working through how to solve these kinds of puzzles as this teacher had no idea that they could be so easily solved. We made up 4 by 4 grids, using the numbers 1,2,3,4. The children then spent 2 further sessions working on producing their own, similar, puzzles. My part in all this was very small, I just explained how to solve the puzzles. The teacher, with their vast experience, was able to take this and produce lessons which involved ICT and poster production, amongst other things. The pupils also went on to produce puzzles for a parents evening as well.