Where's the Algebra? (cont.) And a Quiz

In my efforts to feature stories of algebra in every day life, I have gotten some interesting examples from readers. Thanks for sending, and keep 'em coming!

This from an electrical engineer:

I use Algebra pretty frequently (Less than I use Powerpoint, unfortunately). I design radios for cellular telephones, and use algebra when determining what circuit performance is needed to meet the radio level specifications. I also use calculus pretty frequently, although very simplified and application-specific.

And this is from a registered nurse:

I use algebra all day every day. We take care of patients of all ages. I use algebra to determine the dose of medications. Vials, ampules, & syringes come with the amount of the drug on the label. For example you have 2mg/2cc. You desire to give 0.3mg. How many cc's do you give? The formula we use is desired over have equals desired over have.
D = D
H = H
You give 0.3cc's. That was an easy example but the formula is great because we can use it for all types of medication dosage questions. It amazes me how quick & easy this formula makes math. We can even get a lot of the answers in our heads without writing it out.

I also got an email from a Fairfax County mother about yesterday's post on the school system's 6-point grading scale, which many parents are trying to change.

She claims parents are using algebraic equations to translate their children's grade-point averages into equivalent Montgomery County GPAs, applying the 10-point grading scale there. My quiz question for her and for you is: What would that equation look like? Extra credit for sending formulas that take into account different weights for honors classes and AP classes.

Coverage of the differences in grading policies can be found on washingtonpost.com

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  October 22, 2008; 4:07 PM ET  | Category:  Where's the Algebra?
Previous: My First A ... Almost | Next: Math for Kids of all Abilities


I won't spoil the fun for everyone by attempting an answer but taking off my mathematician hat and putting on my scientist hat, it seems to me that using algebra here would be assuming too much about the populations of students and the behavior of the teachers under each system.

People might be adjusting both systems so that each does the same job in roughly the same way, producing equivalent numbers of A's, B's and so on. Alternatively, while this might be the case if the students were the same in each community, in reality, should the populations differ, each system might be seeking equilibria which markedly differ wrecking any ability to directly compare grading systems.

In this particular case, I think statistics and some empirical legwork is the way to go.

This seems like exactly the sort of confusion that the SAT was meant to overcome. While national standards would improve the ability to compare students, it seems that many people resist what they see as an imposition of uniformity from the outside.

Posted by: mathlete | October 22, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

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