Last quarter I taught Atmospheric Sciences 101 at the University of Washington, a large lecture class with a mix of students, and gave them a math diagnostic test as I have done in the past. The results were stunning, in a very depressing way. This was an easy test, including elementary and middle school math problems. And these are students attending a science class at the State’s flagship university–these should be the creme of the crop of our high school graduates with high GPAs. And yet most of them can’t do essential basic math–operations needed for even the most essential problem solving.
Consider these embarrassing statistics from the exam:
The overall grade was 58%
43% did not know the formula for the area of a circle
86% could not do a simple algebra problem (problem 4b)
75% could not do a simple scientific notation problem (1e)
52% could not deal with a negative exponent (2 to the -2)
43% could not do simple long division problem with no remainder (see above)!
Actually, I am just having fun with this. My guess is that this is a general college problem and not one limited to the atmospheric sciences, though I will say that my experience in engineering is that the “trendy sciences” (whatever the trend might be at the moment, when I was in school it was a new energy program) tend to attract students less prepared for mathematical rigor. Perhaps this is true of climate today?