After the Fact: If it doesn’t add up


“Alice sleeps 9 hours every night. A cat can sleep up to 20 hours every day. Estimate how many more hours the cat sleeps in a month than Alice sleeps. Check your answer with a calculator.”

This is a sample of the math homework page (Xeroxed, with no directions) Patience brings home every week. Patience is in fourth grade and has a math class every day but homework only once a week. Does this sound like the fourth grade YOU remember?  Did you have a math textbook? Did you have a textbook for every subject? The children in this classroom have a social studies textbook, but it does not go home with the student. 

Patience has never used a calculator. Patience didn’t know how many days there are in a month, nor did she know that different months may have a different number of days.  Did you memorize the rhyme about days in a month, “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November”? Were you told to NOT use your fingers to add numbers together?  Did you memorize the multiplication tables?

Unless you teach math or are an engineer, you were probably right when you said you’d never, ever have any earthly reason to remember algebra I after you graduated from high school. And who gets to help your kids with their math homework? Don’t beg off because you “don’t understand NEW math.” So far as I can tell, there’s nothing new except encouraging kids to do all the things we were told NOT to do. It takes Patience a lot longer to use fingers to multiply 9 x 9 than it takes me to have the answer because I memorized the multiplication tables but, eventually, we get there. And, while I’m waiting, I can mix and bake a couple of dozen blueberry muffins. 

Unlike my fourth grade experience, these children also have “electives.” Patience is taking cooking. They made salsa the other day, and it was pretty good, and might even have been salsa if the veggies had been sliced smaller, but that’s my personal preference. They can also choose from: board games, art, painting, calligraphy and probably some others that Patience has forgotten to mention. I might be impressed if Patience could measure 3/4 cup of milk, or knew how many tablespoons there are in a cube of butter. I might be more impressed if these kids learned penmanship and cursive writing before they tackled calligraphy. And I’d be whizzingly impressed if any of them knew that the term “primary colors” does not refer to the 8 color box of Crayola crayons.

If anyone asked my opinion, I’d recommend the elementary education courses at Adams State be taught by professionals in the field. I mean the REAL field. A teacher of teachers should have a prerequisite number of years of experience in the trenches.  Why is certification required for elementary and secondary teachers but not for someone teaching the teachers? Can you imagine a surgeon learning how to use a scalpel from someone who read a book about how to do it? I had a friend who taught himself how to ski by watching Stein Eriksen ski movies (if you remember those, you really ARE old!). John, the novice skier, was a plasma physicist for the national lab and exceedingly bright, but not overflowing with common sense. He had more than a few scrapes, bumps and sprains but he did learn well enough to join the ski patrol. It was a move motivated by self-interest. He got to know the guys who’d bring him down in the basket really, really well. Sometimes, 2 + 2 really does add up to 4.

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