Uh, oh. The New York Times has my son’s math curriculum on the front page today


“Everyday Math” is getting a closer look today on the front page of the New York Times where its story on this and other “reform math” programs was the most e-mailed of the day. Parents are suspicious of “reform math’s” emphasis on teaching children to devise their own ways to solve problems and relying less those algorithms we all were forced to memorize in elementary school. Some are concerned the curriculum may not be preparing children well enough to handle higher level math. A group in Washington state even started a group called “Where’s the Math?” Parents wary of the “Everyday Math” curriculum in New York City Schools chronicle the math debate on their NYC HOLD website. And there are tutoring centers (the closest one to Bel Air is in Carney) teaching a Japanese math program called Kumon — figuring, I guess, that if it’s working for Japanese students, why not give it a go? The story says the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics might even be having second thoughts about this whole “reform math” idea. Apparently there are these “math wars” going on. The story also made reference to earlier skirmishes in the “reading wars.” I really had no idea. I mean, I was suspicious when my son’s kindergarten reading teacher insisted I shouldn’t correct him when he wrote his vocabulary words phonetically. (I did anyway, but it didn’t help much. He still insists on writing phonetically even though his third-grade teacher is dutifully marking up his papers in red pen.) Now, I’m hearing all this murmuring about the math program my son’s teachers trotted out in little a workshop for us befuddled parents a month ago. (You can read my earlier post on that workshop here.) I mean it sounded good. “Everyday Math.” Math taught the way you would use it everyday. My son’s homework requires that he measure himself and the perimeter of the room. He’s supposed to find all kinds of household items that come in groups, like a six-pack of soda and a pair of shoes.
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He’s asked to cut out advertisements that mention different costs and find the measurements on pantry goods. When he has trouble solving subtraction problems using the “trade first” method, I struggle to help him. I try to teach myself this new method while making dinner with one hand and tending to my 4-year-old with the other. Lately, I’ve been cheating and showing him how to use the algorithms I was taught. Now, after reading this article, I’m not feeling so guilty.
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Perhaps teaching us long division — though I loathed it — wasn’t a misguided venture after all. If nothing else, it built character, page by mimeographed page.
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And while I was convinced I wasn’t any good at math, I did get respectable grades in geometry, algebra, trigonometry and I think I at least flirted with pre-calc. I recently decided to no longer consider myself “bad at math.” I mean, while I don’t think I’d make a very skillful accountant, I can manage my family’s finances. And, quite frankly, this immersion in third grade math is giving me a refresher course in basic math facts. I’m forcing myself to calculate dates and prices in my head instead of reaching for the little calculator built into my cell phone. I’m making a point not to say “I’m bad at math” and letting my son think it’s OK not to try. (I even forced him to watch the end of Rudy the other night.) But I am worrying whether this “Everyday Math” is going to prepare him to get even respectable grades in geometry, algebra, trigonometry and whatever he might need to reach his current goal of becoming a computer game designer, which I imagine must involve at least some higher level math skills.