Is The New Math Failing Students and Parents?
I struggle with math almost daily. I am alternately exasperated and dumbfounded (not as much as my math-genius husband) with my inability to visualize and understand numbers.
I wonder if I had been taught math differently if I would have had a better understanding of it. There were parts to math that I liked - the ability to be absolutely correct - which allude my preferred softer subjects. I partially blame the system for losing me and now I live without the skills to really understand compound interest.
I would have though that in the last three decades someone would have found a way to make math understandable and relatable for kids (even ones without natural numeracy skills).
They do teach math differently now. Instead of rote memorization and the lining up of numbers, numbers are grouped and taught with bits of papers and words.
I'm practically innumerate but I liked borrowing and taking away from larger numbers - that made sense to me. So when I went over that method with my third grade son, he looked at me like I was crazy. He had no idea what I was talking about.
I had no idea what he was talking about either. Then we were both confused and frustrated.
This phenomenon of the new math is covered in a cover story by Maclean's magazine, provocatively titled: "Why is it your job to teach your kids math?"
The story details the experience of two math professors trying to understand the new ways of teaching math to their kids. They find the textbooks disturbingly "confusing" and say: “I don’t have a problem with alternate strategies,” Stokke says. “But I fear they’re learning so many, that in the end they’re not mastering any.”
Parents are being encouraged to go to math nights to catch up on the new techniques for several weeks in a row. Many families, who can afford it, are hiring math tutors to help them explain to their kids what the parents don't understand. While parenting experts tell us that homework is not the parents' domain and is between the kids and their teachers - the message the schools are sending is that math homework is a shared experience complete with classes.
As Anna Stokke says, "...the moment you say parents should play a significant role in public education, you have a two-tiered system." That is true and unfair.
The Stokkes are so frustrated that kids are lacking basic skills that they have founded a lobby group to pressure the Alberta government to stregthen math education for kids in Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Ironically, I have found myself also questioning the new math methods along with some of the more traditional experts. My oldest son is very numerical and he found the emphasis on language in math confusing because he is unable to explain methods of grouping when he can add and multiply large numbers in his head.
I am not sure if the reaction against the new techniques is a knee-jerk "my kids should be drilled like I was" or if there is something to the argument that kids are not learning the basics. Weren't our parents complaining about the "new" math when we were kids?
Obviously, some of the issue is that teachers should be able to integrate different methods into their teaching, but since few primary teachers have math training they may not be comfortable with being creative with the lessons. At least, primary school teachers should be better trained in teaching math and should understand that each kid learns differently and expresses numeracy differently - especially in the younger grades.
Until this whole math thing is figured out, it looks like my husband has a lot of homework ahead of him.
Want more chaos? Last year, my friend Ceri an ex-fashion editor wonders about the messages she was sending out to her daughter.