Even if your child is only in third grade, you'll probably soon realize that you can't help her with math homework as effortlessly as you would like. Now she can round off and be more analytical in her thinking process. It was New Math in the 1960s, and New New Math in 1989. Rote math is no longer being taught and fundamentals have given way to new thinking strategies. Gone are the days when 8 + 7=15. Now 8 + 5 = about 15.
But many changes in education have come about in an effort to increase scores on standardized tests. Many educators believe that standardized tests put a tremendous burden on teachers to conform to state and national standards. They feel these tests do not allow for creative teaching, and hinder an instructor's ability to alter lessons at a pace that works for a particular class or an individual child. And many districts are judged solely on their math and reading scores rather than on other important criteria.
The age of technology has forced math to change from the way it was taught in the past. The way we did math years ago was not wrong, just different. But in the new era, we are in in need of new ways of learning and solving mathematical equations. Therefore, the basics of New Math are more analytical and all the work must now be shown; it is a longer process. Many math teachers encourage students to break a problem down into smaller parts. Tackling one part at a time leads to fewer mistakes and a better understanding of the whole problem. New Math is certainly yielding positive results in many ways, however it must not be at the expense of the fundamentals of math.
There are many groups that have tackled the current state of math in schools. One is Mathematically Correct, made up of parents whose occupations involve regular use of mathematics. They have severely criticized the current standards. Their major argument is that standards "eliminate instruction of traditional arithmetic methods, and focus more on process and explanations than upon answers."
Consider this example of a new analytical math question for second graders: "You have 20 bats and balls. How many of each?" The answer is multi-faceted - 19 bats, one ball; 18 bats, two balls; 19 balls, one bat, etc. While this kind of analytical thinking is important, and many youngsters are now quite adept at it, too many of them need their fingers to figure out what 8+7 equals. Even some middle schoolers can't do simple math. This is why Mathematically Correct and its proponents believe so strongly that instructors need to teach these new skills in addition to the fundamental math that was taught years ago.
As early as elementary and middle school, students are now learning math in an effort to prepare for college acceptance. (John's Hopkins' programs require SAT scores from seventh graders!) The SAT was supposedly created to predict the success, or lack thereof, that students would have in college; it has never proven to do that. A major testing shift is taking place, with more students preparing for the ACT exam, a curriculum-based test. The math questions on both tests have word problems that cannot be approached mathematically until the student understands the written word.
Nothing is more important than these written skills. As a child reads, his comprehension and concentration improve. This has been shown to directly influence better scores in all subjects, math included. The thinking process may change, but the numbers will stay the same. Purchase flashcards and constantly review addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication with your child. These operations will always be a staple of our mathematical culture. No matter how New New New the math gets, the fundamentals will always remain.
MARC HOBERMAN is the director of the Grade Success, Inc. Tutoring Service and has been facilitating workshops, seminars, and courses since 1985. To learn more about his upcoming seminars, classes, and group and private parent consulting, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.gradesuccessinc.com.