Monday, November 4, 2013

New Math - Old Math

Exactly what is it with this 'new math' and all this "Common Core" base they've established for first graders?  NY state (see article here) has embraced it and from what I can see, is having some issues with incorporation of it.  (see actual test by 1st grader)

I went to school - elementary - back in the 1950s - and yes, I walked a mile in the snow, each way, to attend school.  But that's a different rant... uh, story.

I don't understand all this new way of doing mathematics.  My granddaughter has called me several times to assist with her homework. I can get her the correct answer but not be able to show her the way using her method - that method makes no sense to me.  Yes, I love math and aced all my math courses, both in school and college.  In fact, even today I can go to the grocery store with my wife and be within one dollar of the bill prior to taxes. All the math is done mentally.  But, again, I digress.

What happened to the simple question of "I have 6 pennies. I give 2 to Billy. How many pennies do I have?"

Who gives multiple choice answers to a first grader?  And exactly how does one wrap their brain around the concept of 5 pennies and 1 cup of coffee?  I mean, for math?  If they want to toss out mixed metaphors, why not go with a question like:

I have 2 peaches, 1 apple and 3 grapes. Jenny gives me 2 pears. Amy gives me 1 cherry and 1 banana.  How many do I have?
1) 2 peaches, 1 apple, 2 pears, 1 banana, 3 grapes and the prized 1 cherry.
2) 10 pieces of fruit
3) Fruit cocktail
4) 6 different fruits
5) Makings for a mixed-fruit smoothie

At least the kid is correct, no matter what answer picked.

It is my belief that we've moved away from the basics of mathematics for some esoteric methodology of math that nobody can understand.

I was not allowed to use 'stick figures' to count.  If one of my teachers saw any indication of having used 'sticks' on the paper, it was immediately marked wrong.  Back in the 50s, erasers really sucked and left shadows.  Of course, being six and pressing down on the pencil with no less than 3 tons/sq inch of pressure didn't help matters.  The groove left was like the Grand Canyon. Shadows were to be expected.  In fact, I'm not sure but we may have been using real lead back then.  Maybe a mixture of graphite.  Not sure.

Note: I had a self-developed "stick" counting routine. I used DOTS.  1 had 1 dot in the middle of the number. 2 had 2 dots, 1 at each end. 3 had 3 dots, 1 at each left hand end-top, middle, bottom.  4 had dots at the 4 points, 2 at top, 1 where the horizontal bar crossed the vertical bar, and of course, then bottom of the vertical bar.  And so it went.  If I had to count "sticks" - I counted my dots that were hidden within the numbers themselves.  As long as I didn't use anything over 50lbs/sq inch pressure - I was safe.

But now today's youth are allowed to have calculators in class.  Why?  So they can be familiar with the cash registers at McDonalds and other fast-food joints.  If your meals comes to $3.78 and you offer the clerk $5.03 ... I'm going to bet (unless the clerk is over 50 yrs of age) that you'll get back 2 pennies, 2 dimes, 1 dollar AND the three pennies you gave the clerk.  Why?  Because they saw the $5 and immediately slapped that amount into the cash register and know the exact change to give you - 2 pennies, 2 dimes and 1 dollar. Those 3 pennies you offered just confuses them - so they give them back.  How do I know this?  It happened to me. I tried to get a quarter out of the clerk but she only saw me trying to cheat her. The manager finally stepped in and I thought it was going to be settled.  He looked at my change and said "You have the correct change, sir. I don't see the problem."  When I told him I wanted a quarter, he informed me that I had a quarter's worth of change and he wasn't about to open the register to make change.  I gave up.  As I took my place to the side to await my order, the other clerk, a "mature" woman well over the age of 40, leaned over and said - "My register is open if you'd like to get rid of the extra change." She held up a quarter. I grabbed out the change and gave it to her. She leaned in close. "I'm amazed they realized it was a quarter." Oh, btw, McDonalds only sells chicken tenders by the piece.  In other words, you can get 6 tenders but you can't get half-a-dozen.  They don't come that way.  Honest!

I'm told that they no longer teach the 'times tables' in school. They teach multiplication but they don't memorize like we did back in the 50s. I loved to sit at my desk and recite 1 times 1 is 1, 1 times 2 is 2... 5 times 5 is 25, 5 times 6 is 30... 8 times 9 is 72, 9 times 9 is 81... Oh how I loved doing that.

At least I have the brains and mathematical know-how to realize when something is $.30/ea -- that 3/$1.00 is NOT a buy.  Or when something is $2.98/ea and offered at 2/$5.00 - I'm saving money.

Maybe we should consider going back to our roots, back to the way things were taught in 1950.  Yes, progress is good, but not always for everything.  Some things are basic and should remain that way.  Of course, there are shortcuts in everything.  298 X 3 = 894.  It can be extrapolated in 2 (two) different methods - 3 X 8 = 24, carry the 2. 3 X 9 27 + 2 = 29, carry the 2. 3 X 2 = 6 + 2 = 8. Voila! 894.  OR 300 X 3 = 900 - 3 X 2 = 6.  OR another example, one can say 275 X 4 = 1100.  Extrapolation - 4 X 5 = 20, carry the 2, 4 X 7 = 28 + 2 = 30, carry the 3, 4 X 2 = 8 + 3 = 11  Again, voila! 1100.  OR  75 X 4 = 300,  200 X 4 = 800, add 800 + 300 = 1100.

See?  If one knows the basics, one can move forward.  But don't give me 5 pennies and 1 cup of coffee and expect me to figure out the difference.  All I see is a cheap cup of coffee, or a lousy tip.

Until next I ramble on...


  1. Honestly, there's a reason I send my kids to Mathnasium 2X a week (a math tutoring center). I can help them with any other single topic in school, but this subject is simply beyond my ability to help them. It gives me the shivers just thinking about it.

  2. My son is facing this with his middle schooler. They are teaching some weird way to do math AND they do not send books home. BTW when I was in shcool we had math races. I used my tongue to secretly count the stick figures!