Thu May 13, 2004 11:56 pm

I think you are addressing the wrong issue. Whether they're going to use it or not, they need to learn the algebra and trig because it will help them learn a way of thinking that will be crucial.

A couple weeks ago, my daughter's babysitter (a 16 yearold high school junior taking a dual enrollment college algebra class at a local community college) asked me for help on some linear regression problems she needed to understand for an upcoming exam. Given that she's 16 and taking college classes I'd say she's toward the top of her high school class.

When I tried asking her if she understood the concept of linear regression she said, I don't have to, all I need to know is how to do it on the calculator. After about 30 minutes of trying to explain to her that the theory was as important as the answer (and that she'd have a far easier time getting the answer if she understood the theory), she told me that the only help she wanted was in learning to use the calculator. I begrudgingly acquiesced because my wife told me not to piss off our best babysitter.

I showed her how to enter the problem. I ran through two examples with her and then had her try one. As soon as she hit enter I was sure she had the wrong answer (why? Because the data set was upward sloping and the coefficient on the mx + b equation was negative). When I told her that the answer was wrong before looking it up in the appendix, she couldn't understand how I could be certain.

After a few more tries she finally figured out the calculator and was getting all the problems right.

Two days later I found out that she failed her exam because the professor had written the problems in a slight different fact set than what was shown in the text. She told me she was clueless about what to do because she couldn't figure out how to get the data into the calculator.

Though I doubt many of us deal with linear regression problems on a regular basis (I certainly don't), I know that those of us who learned the theory would be able to do it if we had to.