I recently attended a “Math Academy” at my son’s Harford County elementary school. The instructors set out to explain to all of us parents why they were teaching our children math in a manner completely foreign to those of us whose third grade homework consisted of long division problems printed in purplish-blue ditto ink. Apparently, in 1983 a group of folks at the University of Chicago decided to
“heed the consensus that the nation was failing to provide its students with an adequate mathematical education.” They formed University of Chicago Mathematics Project and developed “Everyday Mathematics” with lessons designed to be rooted in ways students use math in their everyday lives. The program made it to my son’s school three years ago. While reading up on the program on the University of Chicago Mathematics Project website, I realized this 1983 thing explains a whole lot. This all happened a year after I completed my elementary education. See, I had no hope. My educators had completely failed me at that time and I was sent off to high school desperately unprepared to make simple change or quickly deduce how much I’d save on a sweater marked 30% off. I could memorize algorithms and did so well enough to pass trigonometry and geometery and do well enough on my SATs (with a big boost from my verbal score) to get into college. I even went so far as to pass a statistics course when I got there. But still, don’t ask me to make change or deduct a percentage without giving me a good three minutes to make imaginary numbers in the air (or fumble for my cellphone calculator). But sitting there at the “Math Academy,” I thought there might still be hope for me. The teachers urged us parents to abandon our memorized algorithms and try these funky new methods. Solve equations from left to right (the same way we read). Solve for the hundreds place first, then the tens, then the ones. After getting over the sense that this was some sort of math heresy that would have my third-grade math teacher chasing me with a ruler, a light bulb went on above my noggin (in the place where all those imaginary figures usually jumble up). I started to add in my head: 324 + 555 . . . 879 (ah-ha, I did that in less than a minute!) Now, while helping my son with his homework, I have the chance to go back and re-learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I’m hoping they dabble in percentages because that’s what would help me the most. I was really excited. But then I made a discovery that may slow my progress. As luck would have it, my son is pretty good at math. He often finishes his homework without asking me a single question. The subject he needs the most help with is spelling. I guess that good SAT verbal score will come in handy once again.
For a thorough review of Everyday Math by a mother of two older children check out this post on the Parent Pundit blog. She has a lot of good resources and a long list of commenters on the program.