ERIC Number: EJ877825
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010
Reference Count: 4
Commentary: Decaying Numerical Skills. "I Can't Divide by 60 in My Head!"
Parslow, Graham R.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, v38 n1 p46-47 Jan-Feb 2010
As an undergraduate in the 1960s, the author mostly used a slide rule for calculations and a Marchant-brand motor-operated mechanical calculator for statistics. This was after an elementary education replete with learning multiplication tables and taking speed and accuracy tests in arithmetic. Times have changed and assuming even basic calculation skills is now a dubious proposition. The author was very much taken aback when an exam he set for graduate medical students produced an irate e-mail. The e-mail states that one of the questions required a calculation, using values which, under exam conditions (i.e. stress and lack of time), called for a calculator. The student who wrote the e-mail felt a little cheated because calculators could not be taken in and the student can't divide by 60 using mental calculation. Although the ability to work with numbers is important to the practice of medicine, little is known about physician numeracy (basic skill with numbers). Regardless of poor mental skills it seems that most students are calculator-literate and functional when allowed access to aids. The author's plan for the future is to remain a biochemistry teacher, rather than a math teacher and allow calculators in exams.
Descriptors: Medical Students, Physicians, Numeracy, Mathematics Skills, Computation, Low Achievement, Prior Learning, Technology Uses in Education, Calculators, Science Tests, Influence of Technology
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A