Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From the Archives: "What is this New Math?"

The following is a re-print of a post I wrote last spring... Last night was *our* first night of math homework for the year. What better way to kick off the new school year than by posting about my favorite subject: "The New Math." Try not to break out in a cold sweat while reading....

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**WARNING** The following blog post involves a discussion about math homework. Proceed with caution!

I am a numbers person. Yes, I enjoy writing. I write a blog and have two fiction manuscripts under my belt. But, when it comes down to it, numbers are more my thing. In college, I took Derivative Equations… as an elective... enough said.

So why am I having so much trouble helping my kids with their math homework? True, they are in accelerated math classes, but that has nothing to do with my ineptness.

Let me start out by saying that I do not blame the teachers. I can honestly say that for the most part, my kids have had and continue to have AWESOME teachers. But, for some odd reason, the powers that be who created the curriculum, decided all of the tried and true math problem solving skills which have proven successful for the last fifty years (and probably longer, really) were no longer valid.

Here are my issues:

-Why is multiplication now done in some odd looking grid? By the time the kids get done drawing all the lines, I could have figured the problem out five times. (Or in my head, since I had to memorize my times tables back in second grade, something else my kids never had to do).

-Why is long division even longer? For example – for the problem 83 divided by 7: instead of subtracting the 7 from the 8 and then bringing down the next number, my children must subtract 7 from 83, then subtract 7 again and again, 11 times until they get to the remainder. (Once again, because they have not memorized their times tables, I suspect.)

-Forget about how they would solve 83 divided by 17! It has something to do with pulling out the 10's that I still cannot figure out. (Don’t worry if you did not follow that – you are not alone!)

-As long as we are talking about division, why is short division not even taught?

-Why is it that my 7th grader still looks at me with glazed eyes when I talk about percentages?

I have more issues, but you get the idea.

The other night, my daughter was just starting to learn Algebra. The homework problem was:

7 - x = 14

On her paper, there were half-erased scribbled out numbers, but no real “work” showing how she got the answer (which she had incorrectly written as 21). I showed her how to isolate the ‘-x’ by subtracting 7 from both sides. I then showed her how when you have a negative in front of the “x” you have to multiply both sides by “-1” to make the “x” a positive number. The answer then is x = -7.

When I was done explaining, my daughter looked at me and stated, “That is so easy, why didn’t my teacher show us that way?”

Good question.

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