Category Archives: learning

Everyday Math

So the new school year has started (Hello Second Grade!) and along with it, homework.  Every night.  Homework.  And it’s really no big deal, this homework.  Except… EVERYDAY MATH.  It’s a math curriculum that was supposedly developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.  From what I can tell, the University of Chicago is a place where they apparently don’t know shit about math, or how normal people use math in everyday situations.

Case in point, my son’s most recent math homework: a review test to cover the topics that he learned in EVERYDAY MATH back in First Grade.  Topics like telling time, and using hatch marks to count, and filling out number grids, and counting by 2’s and by 5’s, a little bit about money, and simple addition and subtraction.

Here’s the rub.  The simple addition and subtraction problems?  Each one is accompanied by a drawing of a domino with a corresponding number of dots on it.  So 5 + 3 = fill in the blank, has a picture of a domino with 8 dots on it.  Too dumb to memorize or add in your head or count on your fingers, well, search your house for a domino and add up the dots to get your answer.  Because, yeah, that’s how normal people do math everyday, right?  Calculator’s be damned!  But if you can’t find a domino, don’t worry, your math test will have a picture of one on it and you can simply count the dots to get your answer. 

When I was in school, they didn’t put the answer right on the test like that.  If they did, that would have probably been called CHEATING.

But perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe that’s how you do your taxes every year?  You swipe your child’s train game domino set and start counting the dots while they are wailing in the background about the unfairness of it all?

I say this: you want to teach a child real math?  Math they can use?  Math they can use every day?  Teach them to count on their fingers or give them a calculator.  Both are easier and more portable than a set of dominoes.  Did they not sell calculators in Chicago when they developed this program? Had the creators of the program lost their fingers in some grisly accident?  If so, how did they pick up their dominoes?

And the number grids?  They look like a chunk removed from a blank crossword puzzle, with one number filled in somewhere along all the empty boxes.  Somehow, don’t ask ME how, my son knows that you fill in the horizontal boxes by increasing the numbers by 2 or 5 or something, and the vertical boxes by increasing or decreasing the numbers by 1 or something.  Or maybe I’ve got it reversed.  Or totally wrong.  I don’t do this everyday, so what do I know?  I just know that NEVER IN MY LIFE have I been told to fill out a funky grid like that.

A giant plain number grid that looks like empty graph paper is to be filled in by columns, rather than rows.  It teaches the children to look for patterns.  I contend it’s far easier to count by ones and just go ahead and write: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12….  My son insists THAT TAKES TOO LONG, and instead spends precious minutes (hurry up and finish your homework it’s dinner time and then you’ve got swimming practice!) calculating the number directly under each number.  So the number under 10 will be 20, and directly under that will be 30.  The number under 8 will be 18, then 28, and so on and so forth until he’s filled out each column. OMG THE INSANITY!  My friend’s son, who also contends it takes too long to count by ones, fills out each square several times.  If the number grid goes from 100 to 199, he writes a 1 in each square, then goes back and writes the 2nd  digit in each square, and then finally gets around to writing the 3rd digit in each square.  To that I say, what the hell? and how is that faster? 

Oddly enough, they seem to be teaching the children how to tell time on a clock the normal way, by looking at the hands of the clock.  I’m not sure why they aren’t using sundials or a pendulum clock for this exercise, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

And money?  They’ve taught the kids to represent money by drawing circles with letters in them.  A penny is represented on paper with a circle with a P in it. Or sometimes, just the letter P.  A dime, a circle with a D in it, or sometimes, just the letter D.  Learn this, because if it’s truly EVERYDAY MATH, then I suspect the next time you venture into a Walmart, that little smiley face on the blue sign is going to tell you that the dominoes you’ve come to purchase to help you with your child’s math homework cost QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQDDPPPP, and not $7.99 as you’ve come to expect.

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Filed under homework, learning, math

After the Party

Driving home after a birthday celebration for my mother-in-law, we pass the site where my brother-in-law’s pastry shop is going to be.  It’s officially under construction, but so far the construction looks like a lot full of turned up dirt with a few stakes in the ground. 

Snags, riding in the back seat of the car, says “I hope Uncle Mikey isn’t an astronaut by the time they finish building his pastry shop!” And since construction generally takes six or eight months around here, and since Mikey isn’t a pilot of any kind, nor does he work for NASA, the chances of him becoming an astronaut in the next six or eight months are somewhere between pigs flying and hell freezing over.  My husband said “If Uncle Mikey is an astronaut before his pastry shop is finished, I’ll eat my hat!”

Snags thought that was pretty funny, you know, eventually… like after we spent several minutes explaining what “eat my hat” meant. But then Snags went on to demand “What hat?” and my husband said, “I don’t know, any hat…  Some hat…  A hat.  It doesn’t matter…”

Snags (the optimist) considered all this for a few minutes then said, “Well, if Uncle Mikey is an astronaut by then that’s okay because I will take over his pastry shop!”

To which I replied, “You will?  Oh really?  How are you going to do that?  What about school?”

“Oh, I’ll go to school! School can come to me while I am at the pastry shop!” Snags said, the air of a child actor in his tone.

“Besides,” he continued, “They aren’t even teaching us anything at school anyway.  At least it feels like they aren’t! I don’t think we’re learning anything.”

I called him on that.  I said “Well, what about all the sight words they’ve taught you?  And all the words you can write now?  You even write whole sentences by sounding out words yourself!”

“And math!” my husband added.  “You know how to count by ten.”

Snags obviously felt bolstered from our pointing out all the things he had learned in school.  “Yeah!” he said, “And I can count by eleven! Listen… 11, 41, 51, 61, 71, 81, 91, 101, 1000…” 

My husband couldn’t take it.  He interrupted. “How about 11, 22, 33, 44, 55….”

“You don’t know Dad!  Snags cried.  “I can count by twelve too, wanna hear?” Snags asked.

“Sure,” I said stifling a laugh.

“Okay… 12, 32, 42, 52, 62, 72, 82, 92, 102, 1000!” he proudly proclaimed.

And there, in the darkened night, with a low slung but full and bright moon shining in front of us, I thought to myself, maybe he’s right.  Maybe they aren’t teaching him anything in school afterall.

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Filed under astronaut, counting, humor, Kindergarten, learning, life, pastry shop, Snags, Uncle Mikey