*Renegade parents teach old math on the sly*

This is another article that qualifies as a math head-scratcher for me. Written by Jocelyn Noveck, it gives a glimpse at the efforts, attitudes, and opinions of parents caught in the crossfire of the “math wars.”

I first found the article this morning over breakfast as I read through my *Huntsville Times*. The title given in the paper is “The Old Math versus The New Math,” and the subtitle is “Some parents teaching traditional skills on the sly.”

There’s a lot to the article, but it’s basically about the conflict between (some) teachers and parents.

*They call it the Math Wars: The debate, at times acrimonious, over which way is best to teach kids math. In its most black-and-white form, it pits schools hoping to prepare kids for a new world against reluctant parents, who feel the traditional way is best and their kids are being shortchanged.*

Both sides of the debate are presented, but it seems to lean toward the side of the parents. Rightly so, in my opinion (but more on that later).

Victoria Morey, the parent of a third grade student: *…as for the concepts-before-procedure argument, she quips: “Would you want to go to a doctor who’s learned about the concepts but never done the surgery? Would you want your doctor to say I had the right IDEA when I removed your appendix, though I took out the wrong one?”*

Pat Cooney, a math coordinator in Ridgefield, Connecticut: *One problem … is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. “We’re saying that there’s more than one way,” Cooney says. “The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different.” Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we’ll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 – poof, no pen, no paper.*

When did this start?

*The “Math Wars” have been playing out since at least 1989, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics issued a document recommending concept-based teaching – which was, the group says, distorted by critics and “exaggerated in every direction.”*

*“Our position is that math ought to be reasonable and kids ought to be able to make sense of it,” says Hank Kepner, president of the council and a teacher for the last 45 years.*

To me, the problem is simply communication. I have experienced teachers (and have probably been one) who have had a, “Let me be the teacher” attitude that does nothing to allay the concerns of parents. Of course, I’ve experienced many more teachers that have the exact opposite attitude and are respected and appreciated by parents. This problem has been around for nearly 20 years; something has kept it going.

This quote, I think, demonstrates the heart of the matter:

*“There never seems to be any explanation in the workbooks,” Allison Pennell says. “And there’s no textbook to refer to.” Her son doesn’t usually need her help, but when he does, she says, “I’m such a numbskull. I don’t think I could pass fourth-grade math.”*

Communication needs to be improved. No one–the teacher or the parent–is benefiting from a situation that engenders those feelings in a parent that just wants the best for her child.

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July 22, 2008 at 9:17 am

mplimasol1989 you say… sounds about right to me. one of the reasons why math scores have been steadily declining for years.

the attitudes are all wrong. not only do kids not want to learn math, but the teachers don’t want to teach it.

i moved away from an accelerated city school and to a smaller, slower country school when my dad got transfered. when i started my fifth grade year, my teacher discovered quickly that i was bored. he would give the class the chapter tests in math before we had started the chapter (to see where everyone was), and i would get 96’s or 98’s on the tests – essentially “testing out” of my entire math book. my job, then, was to tutor the kids who had scored, i don’t know, 30’s or 40’s on the test, and to do remedial math with them. i didn’t care – i had nothing else better to do. tutoring 11 kids at a time seemed exciting to me.

today, i look at it as a failure of the educational system.

math needs to be started earlier, practiced more often, and practiced without ceasing. in my college, calculus is no longer a requirement for the pre-med program. WHAT??? as an engineer, i had to take 3 different levels of calc, yet i have had more math than someone my age who, someday, is going to operate on my brain? no. sorry. that doesn’t jive with me.

“Our position is that math ought to be reasonable and kids ought to be able to make sense of it.”

i am sick, sick, sick of this “let’s make math easy!” attitude. math is not easy. spoken from someone who has always done well with math and has advanced many levels in it, math is NOT easy. it doesn’t matter how smart you are. one of the most valuable things i have learned in college is that math was meant to be PRACTICED, something i NEVER had to do in high school (i could walk into tests unstudied and ace them – not so in college). yes, it’s dry. yes, it’s boring. yes, you will never have the right amount of examples you think you need. yes, you will end up learning more methods and tools than you might ever need in your career. but if you DON’T do it, you’re just putting yourself further behind. kids who either don’t get the math early on or do but resist it, this is why there is, for the first time ever, a declining number of ph.d’s in this country.

instead of arguing which way is the “best” (usually, the “funnest” or “easiest”) way of teaching math, why don’t the sides shut up, realize that the future is at stake and just… teach… it?