The Old Way Worked for Me

The moment I tell someone that I am a math specialist, I hold my breath for a moment and wait for the question to come...."What's up with the way they are teaching math these days?" My heart sinks and I go into marketing mode.

As much as we love to nostalgically look back on our educational experiences, I feel like sometimes we are looking through rose colored glasses.  If the "regular way" worked so well, then why do 95% of people react to my job as if they just smelled rotten eggs? Why do more than 50% of college students require remedial math before they are even able to get credit?

The reality is, I understand why parents are feeling confused!  They are probably seeing kids come home with work using strategies that they were not taught in school.  Unfamiliar things in math tend to panic people. Flashback to the feeling you got the first time you saw a letter in the middle of a math problem. EEK

However, there is no need to panic.  Let's all remain calm and work through a few steps.

Step 1- Find the Examples:  The majority of the time, when parents are most confused by homework, students are failing to bring home their practice books, notes, and not using online resources.

My favorite resources to send home are Khan Academy and  Learnzillion.  These sites feature short videos to review math skills that parents and kids can search for by skill.

Step 2- Use What You Know: Look at the question and use your own problem solving skills.  These strategies are not overly complex, they just may require multiple steps.

These unfamiliar looking steps do not make the problems harder for children.  They teach children something that we were never really taught- how to understand numbers.  Feeble rules are replaced with flexible numbers that are, dare I say, EASIER to work with.

Step 3- Problem Solve: Draw a picture, make a chart, use a number line, try a couple of problems to see if your idea works.

This is what the latest math learning standards are asking kids to do.  THINK! We have spent so many years telling kids to memorize steps above thinking for themselves and then turn around expecting them be capable of problem solving.  It makes no sense really.  When I walk into Home Depot, Mrs. Raye from 4th grade is not there to write out a problem for me to solve, so I can figure out how much paint to buy.
Step 4- Keep an Open Mind: Trust the experts.  Students are learning strategies that are research based and supported by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics...since the 80's.  These are not new methods. With some patience, the reasoning behind the strategies typically becomes clear by the end of a unit.

More questions?  Post them in the comments below

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