After the Fact: New math and cupcakes


Patience, the great-granddaughter who occupies most of the space in my house, was a hefty 2 lb., 3 oz. when she was born. As happens with some premature babies, she developed a “brain bleed” that interfered with some physical development.  The “bleed” was supposed to shrink away as she grew older, and I’m sure it has, but I also wonder about what “spaces” it left behind.

Homework for her 5th grade is sporadic, depending on what they can finish in class.  She’ll go a month with no homework, then will come home with a raft of pages of math problems to be completed in 3 days. We spent two hours last night. solving one problem.  To begin with, Patience does not know her multiplication tables. Where I had them memorized when I was 8 (back in the early 1950’s), Patience came home with a Xeroxed copy of the multiplication table up to 29, and the “factors.” But we also had books.  Every student in my 5th grade class had a math text book, among several other text books. The only books Patience brings home are from the school library.

Multiplication notwithstanding, Patience has the attention span of a gnat.  WE (mostly me) were multiplying irregular fractions. I showed her how to do “Step 1”, then “2” and “3” and “4.”  Problem solved. And we moved to the next problem.  Same kind of problem, different numbers, but she didn’t have a clue how the whole thing worked.  We took a break, I drank some tea, thought about it a while, then “drew” the whole first problem with little arrows going here and there. She “got it.” Until we went to that second problem.  Tonight, we’re going to try using M & M’s. My friend, Nelda, taught elementary school teachers how to teach math using M & M’s. If that doesn’t work, cheesecake is on sale.

I’ve looked up everything I can think of on Google but I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of “disconnect” going on in Patience’s left brain that was a consequence of the bleed.  If she can just get through enough math to graduate from high school, she’ll probably never want to take a class “just for fun.” But she’ll be in good company. Laura Rivera is teaching multiplication of fractions to her class in Alamosa, but she has one young man who draws portraits of her instead. At least, she’s smiling in every one of them! He and Patience might meet up in the art department at ASU.

As many another parent or grandparent, I don’t like “new math.” I understand it; I just don’t like it and I don’t think it works as well as “old math.” There have been a lot of changes in education that I question. While they encourage “parent involvement,” they really don’t seem to want parents in the classroom. And do you remember “room mothers?” A thing of the past. Students are asked to bring “a treat” for the class when a party has been planned so there may be 441 cupcakes with melting pink icing (see? I know my multiplication tables!)

There are solutions, but there are only a few private schools in the Valley. School choice may involve a long commute that’s not possible for many parents, and home schooling reduces social interaction. For the majority of parents, public schools are the only solution, and after-school care is yet another huge problem here.

Having taught middle school, I can highly recommend putting a child that age into a large box where food is supplied and books are the only entertainment, with recess 2x a day until they are old enough to go to high school whereupon they will blossom forth, knowing the multiplication tables and having read all of Moby Dick.

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