Thursday, November 13, 2014

I was told there would be no math....

My mother was a math genius. We would walk through the grocery store and she would add up the groceries as we put them in the cart. When we got to the check out line she could give you the total within just a very few cents. Looking at a menu in a restaurant tell her what you are ordering, along with the other kids and her and dad and she knew how much the bill would be. She could figure out a discount in a shopping mall in her head. Tell you the before and after tax total on a shopping trip. All without once breaking out a calculator.

And when I was in middle school she bitched about the "new math" that they were teaching kids today. Because it wasn't the way she was taught so she didn't understand intuitively what it was she was seeing. So she taught me how to do math her way. Which I still use today. Back to that later.

My son is a math genius. He could tell the answer to a complex math problem just by looking at it. Just knew the right answer. Boom! Human calculator. When he was in elementary school his TaG teacher made him learn how to actually do math the long way. Showing his work and each step of the process. It was boring and pointless to him. He already knew the answer why should he have to do all of the steps? But if you don't know how to do the steps in basic math you end up not being able to do the more complex math later.

By the time he was in middle school he was doing math that I had no idea how to do. And I couldn't really help him. Though I took algebra I didn't like it. I took statistics which I did enjoy but that was the end of my higher math. He was already looking at things that I just didn't understand. They made no sense to me, and I have a degree in accounting. So when he needed math help I was not the one he turned to.

I have friends with school age kids now and every once in awhile they will post a math homework problem that they are trying to help with. We all take a crack at it and usually can figure it out. I do have some other math genius friends around who can do the complex things and I'm pretty good at this super complicated crazy "common core" math. I put common core in quotes there because common core isn't a method, it's a standard. But just like our parents hated "new math" we hate "common core" because it's different than what we learned. Well, except for me. Because see I learned math from my mom.

Take that discount at the store. If you are figuring out a 25% discount the math we learned would have you multiply the total by .25 then subtract that answer from the total and that leaves your answer. Which would involve moving decimal points, carrying down zeros as place holders and all sorts of things that you would need to keep in your head to figure it out. My mother's way? Take ten percent double it and halve it. $150 sweater with a 25% discount? Easy. Ten percent of that is $15. You know that because you just have to move that decimal one space to the left and you have 10%. Easy mom tricks. Then 15 and 15 is 30. That's 20% easy peasy. To get that last 5%? That's half of ten right? So another $7.50 so your total discount is $37.50. Want to do the easy math in your head? Subtract that $37.50 from $150, but it's easier really to subtract $40 and then add back in the $2.50 to make it right. So the sweater after discount is $112.50. Would have taken me less time to work it in my head than write it all out. But that's basically what I see in "common core" commotion now. It's the bringing things up to tens and even numbers to make the base math easier. The old math my mother knew, before the "new math" they taught me. (by the way, my mother taught me how to figure out the discount my father taught me that I still wouldn't pay $112.50 for a sweater)

Now why did my mom hate "new math"? Because she didn't understand it. Why do most people (from my observance) hate the new math of today? Because they don't understand it. We feel like we should know how to do what our kids are learning. Especially when they are younger. And if for some reason we don't, we blast the system. I mentioned C earlier and being a math genius because I had to let go of the idea that I would know more than he did at a very early age. He was smarter than I was and that was apparent. I might know more in certain areas, I might have a lot of life skills to teach him, but he was flat out smarter than I was. It's a blow to your ego as a parent when your 9 year old knows more than you do. Or when your 7th grader has a question on their homework and you have to say, "I have no idea." Nobody likes to feel dumb. Luckily for me I had a lot of practice with him so I got really good at it.

But guess what? It wasn't about what I was comfortable with. If I had only let him learn what I knew he would never have had the opportunity to know more than I do. Get it? It's not about you. It's about them. They are learning a new way because our old way wasn't working. We bitch and moan about falling behind the rest of the world in skills and test scores and then freak out about trying a new method of teaching. "The old way was good enough for me!" No it wasn't. I'm saying that as one of you. It wasn't. We didn't learn enough. We didn't learn as much as we should have. Math stopped for me in high school after one year of algebra and one year of geometry. And I had to retake the algebra in college because I couldn't remember enough of it to move along. If we want our kids to be able to work in math and science fields we need to find ways of teaching them math and science.

Is what your school is doing right now the best? I don't know. I can't really answer it. But I can tell you that just because you can't do it doesn't mean it can't be done. And it doesn't necessarily mean it's the wrong way to do it. If you don't understand the new math how about scheduling a session with your kid's teacher to have them show you? Wouldn't that be more productive than posting online about how stupid this or that test is?

 Like I mentioned, I have a degree in accounting. One of the reasons I really liked doing accounting is because numbers don't lie. The other thing I really liked was cross footing. That's when the numbers all add up to be the same no matter how many ways you look at them. And that's what you need to remember when looking at this "common core" nonsense...yes 2+3=5 and it's just that simple.

But guess what?
So does:
And you can represent it with a graph. Or a number line. Or a pile of donuts. Or dots on a board. Or....

Lots of ways to get there...don't discount all of the others just because you didn't learn it that way.

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