Let me preface this by saying that this isn’t about the teachers. I love my daughter’s teachers. It’s the curriculum that have a problem with.
I know – I hate math, too. Which makes it super weird that I went into a math-heavy line of work. but anyway – I am talking about basic math. Easy math. Elementary school math.
That I am unable to help my daughter with.
Is anyone else having this problem? Your kid comes home with their math homework and asks you for help and you say, “Sure! Third grade math is easy!” And then you look at it and look at it again and then blink a few time and then put your glasses on and read it again and finally you say, “What fresh hell is this?”
Because seriously – what the sweet blue fuck are they teaching these kids?
Look – I understand that it has been a long, long (loooong) time since I was in elementary school. And I know that they are learning things earlier. and that they have different methods of teaching. I get that. Hell – I remember being in physics class in high school and my dad (MS in and former teacher of physics) trying to help me and refusing to believe that my teacher could possibly be teaching me to do it that way (until he came for parents’ night, discovered that he was, had a cow, told the teacher he was doing it wrong, and came home and apologized to me for a whole school year of not believing me). So I really DO get that things change. But this is different. This isn’t just a new method of teaching. This is leaving out the part where they learn the basics – the part that all the other stuff comes back to.
When my son was in grade school, I used to get irritated by all the estimating that they taught. I always believed that you should be able to do the problem and come up with the answer. Estimating is important, too, but you need to be able to do the math and find the actual answer. But I sat back because the teachers assured me that this was how they do it now. I also kept my mouth shut (mostly) through”tap” math (which was almost counting-on-your-fingers), and a number of other techniques that I didn’t really get, but had my own physics experience in my head and thought should give it a shot.
So here we are seven years later and I am watching my daughter occasional struggle with math (something that she was previously very naturally good at). They are working on multiplication. They start earlier than we old folks did. I remember being in 4th grade and having all the multiplication tables on the board. And we memorized that shit until we were blue in the face. The entire class: “One time one is one. One times two is two. One times three is three…” It was tedious. It was boring. It wasn’t even remotely fun. But guess what? Thirty-five years later and someone wants to know what nine times seven is? I’m your girl. SIXTY-THREE, MOTHERFUCKERS! I still know that shit!
But they don’t teach the kids that basic math anymore. I think the attitude is that the way we did it was memorization – that they want the kids to be able to figure it out and not just memorize. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. The memorization part is what makes it easy and natural, so they can do the more complicated stuff further on. If you ask my daughter or most of her friends what nine times seven is, there will be much thinking and counting and fingers and possibly even a little guessing before they come up with 63. So figuring out 247 x 239 is going to take a LOT longer.
This week she had multiplication homework. Problems like 42 x 7. And they wanted them to solve it like this:
7 x 40 = 280
7 x 2 = 14
280 + 14 = 294
That’s three steps! THREE! When it could have been solved quite simply in one:
I watched her for 15 minutes struggling through these problems, trying to figure them out. And I finally realized that it wasn’t the math itself that she was struggling with, but the way it was being done. she didn’t know what they wanted. And I had no idea what they were asking her to do, never having seen this type of teaching or even heard of the phrases that the use to explain it. Finally I just taught her to do it the old way, and it was like a light bulb went off in her head. She tore through the rest of those problems in about three minutes total.
So this summer, I intend to make sure that she has all the multiplication tables memorized so she’s ready to start next year. and while I will do my best to figure out what the heck they want and encourage her to learn it their way, I will also be teaching her my way, as well. Because if she gets caught up in confusion over the way they are teaching, she isn’t actually learning anything at all. And even if she may not be doing it their way, she’ll be doing it.