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Education is on my mind a lot these days (wonder why?) and I happened across this vid about current Math instruction in the public schools (in Washington State particularly). It expresses the concerns I have had as I saw my children bring home math homework from the Investigations curriculum. Perhaps, if you haven’t noticed this, or haven’t had kids in your home lately, this will give rise to some questions in your mind about how our schools are teaching math “these days”. Enjoy — or just skip below to see my commentary:

Summary: The two main WA state curriculum choices (Investigations and Everyday Math) do not teach the standard algorithm for arithmetic. The algorithm we all learned is efficient and works every time, no matter how big the numbers (or how small, as in fractions and decimals). So why don’t they teach it anymore?

Well, at 9:46 on the vid is a sad statement by Everyday Math saying that mastery of the traditional algorithms is not worthwhile and is “doomed to failure”. They say that it is not worth spending precious classroom time on the algorithm because exact answers can be found quickly and accurately WITH A CALCULATOR.

The video goes on to point out that the fourth- and fifth- grade books instead spend extensive time on what looks more like social studies, as well as 35 pages on how to use a calculator.

So, on to the personal: Grace has been doing K12 math as part of her new homeschooling program, and she has experienced an incredible relief using the standard algorithm. It has the least steps, and works reliably. This has given her lots of CONFIDENCE in math! K12 yellow (her fifth grade book) did start with a unit of estimation strategies which caused some frustration at first, but has actually been a great complement to the algorithm method. With both strategies together, she has the ability to both work complex problems and decide if her answers are reasonable. Or vice versa. What more does she need? She is confidently doing extensive fraction work right now with very little help from me.

Frankly, the only time she gets something wrong is when her knowledge of the times tables is lacking — they had years to give her that at public school, and she’s an excellent memorizer, so it’s really pathetic that she left school at the end of fourth grade without this knowledge firmly set.

Is it really as bad as this video proports? Well, I’ve been helping in my son’s third grade classroom this year and have seen extensive small group work. Like, five minutes of math instruction, followed by five minutes of getting into groups and twenty minutes of chatting in groups about how to do the worksheet (say, a data chart). I’ve watched Noah, who naturally understands math, be chided for writing his answers down on his own and not sharing his “thoughts” with the rest of his group. I’ve seen them resort to copying his answers.

But it was worse for Grace in third grade — her math homework, by springtime, included between 25 and 50 workbook pages torn from the Investigations student guide — week after week. After the first week or two of this, we refused to do more than a couple each week. It was very strange, and I thought the teacher just had poor planning that year until I heard from students in her next class say they got the same mega-packs.

BTW, at the end of this vid she recommends supplementation with Singapore Math as an easy affordable option, and though I haven’t used it (we’ve done Horizons since I had those for free) I have heard great things about Singapore. If you can’t homeschool but want your kid to get a good math foundation, you can still do it. Sometimes we just write down problems on grid paper and practice on our own. For the standard times tables, flash cards or simple auditory practice while driving to school works great. Oh, and we love using this set of math dice to roll and answer equations at all levels.

Thoughts about math, especially from you math geeks out there?

Live, learn and play!

P.S. if this post’s title reminded you of Salt-n-Pepa, you’re OLD.