There are times when I look at my fourth grader’s math homework these days and just shake my head.
My biggest problem with the recent changes in math is that what I assume was intended to teach kids to think about problems in different ways is now forcing them to think in one specific way or their answer is wrong.
The idea of teaching kids that there are different methods to solving a math problem: I’m all for it. This is really nothing new. I did this when I taught math, even though it’s been almost 10 years now since I was a classroom teacher.
Teaching different strategies, just explaining again with slightly different words: sometimes that was all it took for it to click for a child. And if there was a way to solve a problem that made the most sense to a particular student, then that was the way they were encouraged to do it, even if it wasn’t the way that I thought was the easiest or most efficient.
What was important was that they understood what they were doing.
The way that a lot of the math problems are set up today, kids have to approach them in the way specified or they can’t get the correct answer since the question deals with the given process and has very little to do with if the child actually understands that mathematical concept.
It seems to do the exact opposite of what the original intention was. Instead of teaching that there are many different methods to solve a problem and they can use what makes the most sense to their learning style, it forces a way that might feel totally unnatural.
It’s enough to make me rant that I hate homework or that I hate math these days.
So, despite being a former teacher, former math department chair, current math tutor, and all-around numbers geek, I get why I hear so many moms talk about how they hate math and how it’s so hard.
I really do.
Moms, I’m going to ask you to stop doing something.
Please stop saying math is too hard for you.
Don’t tell your kids you’ve never been good at math.
Don’t tell them they have to wait until Dad gets home because Mom doesn’t know how to help them with math.
The majority of the students I tutor in math are girls. And when they are sharing their frustration about not understanding a concept, they often share that their moms say those things to them at home.
I lost track of the number of times it came up in parent teacher conferences that mom had never been good at math.
Talking homework with other moms at school, it’s rare to come across the mom who is enthusiastic about math. Or even lukewarm about it.
Be careful that your words aren’t teaching your daughter that math is hard for girls.
Or teaching your son the same thing, though with boys, that might teach them the misconception that they’re smarter than any girl in math, which is an obnoxious way to think… but not as damaging as allowing our girls to think that just because they’re girls, they can’t possibly be good at math.
I know that’s not your intention. I know you want your girls to think they can accomplish anything and that they’re intelligent.
But from working with girls, I can tell you that is the exact negative message some of them are getting: that math and girls aren’t a good combination.
Now look, I haven’t had reason to do math beyond elementary level and a little algebra since I took Calculus in high school, 20 years ago. That level of math isn’t something the majority of us need on a daily basis, but elementary math?
We can do this.
It might not be your favorite thing. And you might hate the way that your child has to do math these days.
But you can still do it.
And if a specific problem throws you off, it’s okay to say “I’m not sure how to do this problem” but don’t say “I don’t know. I can’t do math.”
We can admit we don’t have all the answers, but we can also let our kids know that we don’t have to let one small problem define us or our abilities.
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