This is a letter I wrote in my head on the way home from school the other day.
What is this “new math” of which you speak? I see the memes on Facebook and wonder, have I been teaching math wrong?
No, the answer is there is no NEW math. Math is math. Numbers are numbers.
And yet people have been complaining about new math since I was in school. Despite what some of my students think, it was only the 1980s.
But there is something different about the way I teach math.
I do not teach math the way most parents or even how I was taught. I do not teach students strictly to memorize everything by rote so they can rattle back answers to me. When I was in school we learned only by repeating procedures, but never really understood the concepts (or at least I didn’t until I had to teach them).
I teach them to think about how numbers interact with each other. I teach them to problem solve and to develop their own personal strategies. I encourage them to explain their thinking using math vocabulary. When they don’t “get it” I teach it to them another way using another strategy.
This is the part that really gets to parents…
These parents try to help their struggling student by showing them how they did it when they were in school. Well, now their child has TWO ways they can’t add. The whole point of creating a personal strategy is the personal part. And it’s these same parents who cannot understand the way they did it is THEIR PERSONAL STRATEGY.
Students don’t have to do everything the way their parents did. Once upon a time it was acceptable to smoke while pregnant or drive in a car without a seatbelt. Perhaps parents should accept that teaching math has evolved too. We all use tools to do math in our daily lives. Whether we passed math with 100% or just squeaked by, somehow we are able to survive each day.
Teachers, this is the letter I wish I could send home to my students’ parents so they could understand they are passing along their anxieties about math to their children. What are your biggest beefs with the “new math” myths? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.