Contrary to what you might be thinking, this post is not about the Fibonacci sequence; it's about an all too common mistake that teachers and test makers make. I've found this error to be very common at the high school level but what brought it back to mind was when I was exploring the IXL.com website recently. Let me start by saying I actually think the website is an excellent resource for teachers. Just find a skill that your students are deficient in and send them to the IXL site for practice on that very topic. If you get your class registered you can even get a lot of analytical data on how your students are doing. That said, the website has some problems, too. You might not think that an educational site would teach students incorrectly but you'd be wrong. A quick look around the website reveals some problems in probability, irrational numbers, and sequences. I'm going to focus on sequences. Sequences are covered in many grades so there are are many different links that are "teaching" students incorrectly, such as here or here. If you experiment (the problems get randomly generated) you'll have no trouble coming up with the type of wrong answer that I've already talked about in my post "...is Ambiguous". In that post I showed that given a formula for the first k terms of the sequence you can produce a formula to justify whatever real number you wanted to be next. But there are some variations you will see on the IXL site that have a slightly different format:

  • Find the next move of a recursive sequence (e.g. 1,1,2,3,5,...)
  • Find more than one missing term from another sequence (e.g. _, 3, 11, _, 27, 35)

Since neither of those is covered by the previous post (I'm ignoring the fact that recursive formulas can be rewritten as an algebraic formula--because we don't need that formula to create our function, unlike last post) I'm revisiting the issue. If these mistakes are so common then the subject should be the foundation of a lesson--to make sure students learn the correct theory and, hopefully, future teachers and educational sites won't teach students incorrectly. That, by the way, is one reason why I'm so adamant that you can't have teachers without a bachelors degree teaching math in high school. It doesn't mean that they all will know this (many still won't); it's just that there are many such pitfalls that a teacher with a poor math background will make. For example, I've tutored students recently that had a certified and tenured teacher "teach" that there are 6 ways to form a committee from 3 people. Turns out she had taught students about permutations for over a week using a word "committee" that should only be used in talking about combinations. Needless to say, I had to fix what she broke. But I digress.

The first type of problem is illustrated by the sequence 1,1,2,3,5,... which you might recognize as the Fibonacci sequence. Yes, that's AN answer, but it's not THE answer. In fact, THE answer doesn't exist; it's possible to produce a polynomial p(x) such that p(1)=1, p(2)=1, p(3)= 2, p(4)=3, p(5)=5 and p(6)= whatever we want. That is, ... is still ambiguous for reasons beyond what I mentioned in the earlier post.

Similarly, in the second case we can pick whatever missing numbers we want and produce a polynomial to go through them. Like a statistician, we can produce any answer we want. Unlike a statistics there is real math underlying the method. Don't believe me? For the sequence 1,1,2,3,5,.... I'm going to claim that the 6th term is -3 and give you a formula to prove it. Try this:


Notice that I've got some help getting the answer. Sage is going through the calculations to make things quick and avoid mistakes. You can see p(1)=1, p(2)=1, p(3)= 2, p(4)=3, p(5)=5 and p(6)=-3. Also notice I said "the polynomial"; there are other polynomials that would work but in the context used above it's about THE polynomial that comes about by following  a particular sequence of steps. Suppose, instead of -3, I want p(6)=11. No problem:


The same method works with the sequence:_, 3, 11, _, 27, 35. It looks like THE formula is 8x-13, so that the first term is -5 and the fourth term is 19. But it's not THE answer, it's just AN answer. Here's one such polynomial.


And there is no reason that the terms have to be integers; it just makes the polynomial nicer. In this one pi is used as a missing term in the sequence. You can click on the image below to make it bigger.


The bottom line is that an nth degree polynomial can be created to go through any sequence of points [where the x values are different]. As a result, ...is ambiguous and it's a shame that many teachers and even educational websites keep making the same mistake. Going forward, I'll look at how Sage can help us compute these polynomials.

Here are some stories that caught my eye over the last week.

  • Truth in American Education reports "Even though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation acknowledged that the Common Core State Standards and related assessments have not accomplished what they had hoped they are bringing the standards, assessments and accountability movement to higher education.....Of course we have to have standardized tests to go with the common standards

    “It may be difficult to list everything students should know and be able to do,” the book said, “but when faculty are asked to focus on essential elements they are quite ready, willing and able to define priorities for student learning in their disciplines.”

    One of the project’s goals is for the white papers to be used for the creation of tests, or assessments, that colleges can use in a standardized way. However, those possible assessments must be voluntary, the book said, and based on multiple measures rather than a simple box-checking, multiple choice test.

    College faculty, the article noted, may be forced to adopt measures like these." I get the feeling that success isn't measured by academic performance but by the amount of money spent on standardized testing.

  • The Valley Patriot explains "The Ugly Truth About Common Core Education" with such observations as "Private testing companies and textbook publishers are pushing for spending millions of dollars pushing Common Core because these corporations see the possibilities of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits generated from the new tests, computers, preparation guides, and Common Core-aligned textbooks.... The new ELA texts contain graphic pornographic depictions, which should cause deep concern for every parent. One especially graphic text in the curriculum is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which graphically depicts rape, incest, and pedophilia. Is this what we want our students to read and “analyze” in English class? Dr. Sandra Stotsky, who wrote a large part of the ELA Framework for Massachusetts, which made Massachusetts the highest achieving state in the nation, resigned in disgust from the Common Core Advisory Team and is now actively opposing the implementation of Common Core."
  • Graduation is approaching and you might think it's time to reward academically superior students. Not in this Texas school. Kens5 has the story: "National Honor Society (NHS) stoles are frequent sight at high school graduation ceremonies around the country, but one Plano Senior High School student is frustrated that he won't be allowed to wear one when he puts on his cap and gown next month. According to school practices, students are not allowed to wear NHS regalia....KellyAnn Frederick says a National Honor Society sponsor claimed school administrators want everyone to feel included in graduation and not single students out." Since said teenager wants to be singled out for his hard work the issue is apparently that the students who didn't excel will feel badly.
  • The Dayton Daily News reports "Ohio students performed dramatically worse than expected on two state exams this spring according to preliminary results, and state officials want to soften the scoring system so more students pass....An Ohio Department of Education memo leaked by Wagner shows that only 24 percent of students scored proficient or better on the Geometry test, and only 21 percent did so on the other sophomore math option — Integrated Math II. Students had to get roughly half of the questions correct to be proficient....So Jim Wright, director of ODE’s office of curriculum and assessment, on Wednesday proposed softening the scoring system so that 52 percent of students would pass the Geometry exam and 35 percent would pass Integrated Math II." The rhetoric of higher standards sounds great until your numbers look bad. The result? "Wagner calls the system “class warfare,” pointing out that for years, test scores have closely tracked income levels, with poorer students scoring worse." Luckily some educators are actually interested in standards, "“We’re increasing the rigor as we should. We should make sure that every child has the ability to perform at something after high school,” Gunlock said. “Hiding behind the fact that they all got a diploma even if they weren’t qualified doesn’t make any sense to me. … The idea that this is holding back poor kids is baloney.”". The point was to raise the academic bar because student achievement was poor. The fact that the DOE wants to pass them anyway shows you how academic performance is not a priority.
  • A surprising result in Shakmir 2016. Tournament favorite Caruana lost in the penultimate round and drew the final round to tie for first with Mamedyarov--Mamedyarov, having beaten Giri in the last round then beat Caruana in the playoff to win the title. Chessbase has the report here "Tied for first, both Fabiano Caruana and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov faced each other in a Playoff shortly after the end of Mamedyarov's game against Giri. In the first mini-match of games at 10 minutes plus 3 seconds, Fabiano Caruana achieved a decisive advantage in both games, but each time failed to deliver the killing blow and the Azeri managed to escape. With two draws and a score of 1-1, the momentum had to seem to swing to Mamedyarov's side, if only for psycholgical reasons: escaping 'certain defeat' twice in a row had to be a confidence booster, feeling the opponent is just not firing all cylinders at this point. Furthermore, Caruana is not known to be the best blitz player (his FIDE Blitz rating is not a fluke), an area where Shakh might now feel he had he edge.Whatever the truth of it, Mamedyarov won the first game in a very tense battle that had everyone on the edge of their seats. Vishy Anand, watching online, was no less riveted and commented about their great fighting spirit, "We are not worthy!". Game two saw Caruana in a must win situation with black, but being blitz, anything goes. After reaching a clear advantage in a rook and opposite-colored bishop ending, it was the opinion of grandmaster pundits that Fabiano was going to win it and level the score, but everything went south for the American and after a wild scramble he was suddenly worse with no chance of winning whatsoever, and the players shook hands." Hou Yifan had a disappointing last place finish. Playing with the men is quite different when every game is a battle. Judith Polgar's place as a (former) top 10 player in the world still puts her as the best woman ever.
  • Gen Whiny is on the move in Yale University yet again. According to Reason, "Some Yale University students are demanding changes to the English Department curriculum: specifically, they don't think it should feature so many English poets who were straight, white, wealthy, and male. "It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices," the students wrote in a petition to the faculty. "We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention....Students should feel comfortable challenging the notion that a Shakespeare or a Milton deserves his place in the canon: in fact, that sounds like an excellent subject for a classroom discussion facilitated by a professor. But professors need to actually teach students about these pivotal figures before those discussions can be had....In a brilliant piece for Slate, Katy Waldman eviscerates the idea that non-white students have nothing to learn from dead white poets: ...

    But even if you disagree, there’s no getting around the facts. Although you’ve written that the English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history,” what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past.

    In tangentially related news, Nicholas and Erika Christakis—who declined to protect students from offensive Halloween costumes—have finally resigned their positions at Yale." The adults in the room are now gone. 

  • The Federalist explains how the Gen Whiny came to be, "Forty-five years later: By this time, we had instituted a wildly successful pogrom in higher education, eliminating most of the conservative faculty and driving the rest underground. We ran amok, instituting freethinking, progressive reforms at every level of the system....Gradually, new codes of conduct were instituted to ensure everyone was comfortable at all times. ...The enlightened former freaks who now inhabit these campuses have become increasingly hypersensitive and nasty, spitting tacks at people for all manner of imaginary crimes such as “cultural appropriation.” Recently, a white guy got hammered for wearing dreadlocks. This is deeply ironic because, as I recall, we hippies were masters of cultural appropriation. Hookahs, Nehru jackets, bead curtains, reggae, Eastern religions, sitar music, Tibetan prayer flags, chakras, ethnic food, dashikis, Rasta shoulder bags, ironically worn military apparel, mandalas, henna tattoos, muumuus, hand-woven Guatemalan tunics, pyramid power, Maori tattoos, macramé... Meanwhile, at Emory University, some fascist from outside the perimeter jumped the razor wire and wrote “Trump 2016” on the sidewalk in chalk —a situation that could easily be remediated with a bucket of water. Instead, the student government allocated emergency funding for counseling sessions, and the college administration issued the usual limp apologies and assurances. Students were afraid to attend classes because they might sit near someone with a different worldview.....Today’s outraged, privileged, fragile snowflakes conjure up utterly trivial nonsense to consider as an affront: microaggression. This can include using the wrong one of more than 50 gender pronouns, sideways glances, snort-chuckling, eye rolling, resigned sighing, and even merely existing in proximity to a person with raw sensitivity. "

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