Category Archives: math

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

Elementary Math Leaves Woman Without Chocolate

As we were driving to summer camp this morning my son said, “I’d like to drive around the neighborhood.  I’m interested in fountains.  Maybe I could buy one.”  This isn’t The City of Fountains we live in. It’s just that my son has an obsession with and an “eye” for decorative fountains, and can spot them hidden beyond a tree in your backyard from 17 miles away.  “Stop!  Go back!” he’ll yell as I’m driving.  “There’s a fountain back there!”  And if I do turn around and go back, it will turn out he’s spotted a fountain in a scene in a movie, playing on somebody’s television, and he caught a glimpse of it when they peeked through their mini blinds to get a check on the weather. Like when they were trying to decide, “Should I sit in the house and finish watching this Discovery Channel show about fountains, or should I go outside and mow the lawn?”

And it’s not like he needs a fountain, mind you.  He has quite an impressive fountain collection as it is. But I decided not to point out the obvious.  I didn’t say “You don’t NEED another fountain” which is what my husband would have done, and which would have provoked a long round of crying and pleading that I wasn’t up for.  Instead, I asked “Do you have any money?”  And he said “I have $5!  Oh and I have another dollar.  5 plus 1 makes 6!”  

“Didn’t your grandparents send you $5 recently?”  I asked.  “So how much do you have with that?  What’s 5 plus 6?” 

He thought about it and said, “Well, 5 plus 5 is 10, so that means I have $11!”  “Right!”  I said. Pretty good for a 5 year old, I thought.

Then, before I could stop myself, I said, “You know what?  I’ll give you $2 just for figuring out that hard math.” 

“It wasn’t hard” he said.  “I’m smart!”

“You are smart!” I agreed.  A comment that I realize goes totally against the recommendation of the New York Times magazine article How Not to Talk to Your Kids.

And then my son said, I’ll tell YOU what!  If I can tell you what 9 plus 9 is, you have to give me two more dollars!”  Because, you see, the kid IS smart, he knows he can’t buy a fountain with only $13 in his pocket.  He was angling to build up his savings, get a new fountain faster.  I thought about it for a second, considered the handful of bills I had stuffed somewhere at the bottom of my purse.  Were they all $1’s or did I have a $5 bill in there?  Would giving up another $2 leave me with nothing, thereby requiring a trip to the bank?  Before I had a chance to actually check, I took the bait.  I agreed we had a deal.

“But I’m going to count on my fingers” he said, as I shrugged.

Then I heard him in the backseat, counting to himself:  “One…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…”  then a pause.  Then he started again “ten…eleven…nine…ten…eleven…”  He was quiet as I drove for about 4 miles.  Then he announced, with the utmost confidence, “NINETEEN! Nine plus nine is 19!” 

“Aw.  Nope!  But you were close” I said. 

 “TWENTY!” he shouted. 

“Nope.  Not quite,” I replied. 

“Fine then!” he sniffed.  “I don’t get the $2.  Never mind! Just forget it!”  He cried.

I asked if he wanted me to tell him the answer and he said no, “that would be cheating”. 

So I said simply, “You were close, but too high.”

“Eighteen!” He guessed.

“Right!”  I said.  “Now I owe you $2.” 

“No,” he said.  “I didn’t get the answer on the first try.  Never mind, it doesn’t count.”

“Okay,” I said, resigned to his surliness again.  No biggie, I thought.  I can keep my $2.  Maybe I’ll buy myself some chocolate with it.  Yes, I thought, determined.  I’ll buy myself some chocoloate!  I swear to you, as I thought about it, I could even taste it. 

But then he said, “Okay, you can give me $1.  Or… you can give me $2.  It’s okay.”

And I said, “Now wait a minute!  You said you couldn’t have the money since you didn’t get it on the first guess.”  And he said, “But I DELETED those other guesses when I said eighteen, so you have to give me the money!”

And that’s how I ended up short on cash when I went to buy myself that chocolate bar.

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Filed under chocolate, fountains, kids, math, money, smart