Parents Rise Up Against A New Approach to Math
Greg Barlow, an Air Force officer in the defense secretary's office at the Pentagon, was helping his 8-year-old son, Christian, one recent night with a vexing problem: What is 674 plus 249?
The Prince William County third-grader did not stack the numbers and carry digits from one column to the next, the way generations have learned. Applying lessons from his school's new math textbook, "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," Christian tried breaking the problem into easier-to-digest numbers.
But after several seconds, he got stumped. He drew lines connecting digits, and his computation amounted to an upside-down pyramid with numbers at the bottom. His father, in a teacherly tone, nudged him toward the old-fashioned method. "How would you do that another way?" Barlow asked.
Wow, this reminded me of when I was doing "new" math back in the dark ages and my loooong division problem took up a whole loose leaf page. My mom looked at it, sighed, and showed me how to do it in a tiny space on the page, the way she learned it. It was so easy! But nooo, I had to submit my homework the loooong way. Eventually I figured out another way to do it in my head that I can't really explain.
I felt very dismissive of this new new math when I started the article above, but as I went on though, I realized that they are teaching kids to do math exactly the way that I do it in my head.
Carol Knight, Prince William's math supervisor, said that when children break down numbers into multiples of 10 and 100, their understanding of place value and "number sense" increases.I thought this way was cockeyed and naive so I never told anyone how I calculate, but I am not so sure I could figure out a way to teach it to people who didn't already know how to do it the old way. Calling it "Investigations" however is a sure way to freak out parents on a week night at 11 o'clock.
"Memorization will only carry you so far," Knight said. "With 'Investigations,' kids understand the real values of the numbers and are not doing shortcuts. When they multiply 23 times 5, they'll do five 20s to get 100, and then add five 3s to get 15, and they put that all together and get 115. What they've done is made actual use of the numbers."