By Sarah Vander Schaaff

The school schedule is back in full swing and I image one of the most annoying things a person can say to you with the best intentions is, “Wow, do I have a book you should read!”

I get it.

I wasn’t looking for another book to read. I was wandering through the Natural History Museum gift shop in desperate search of a coloring book about dinosaurs for my five-year-old. Instead, I found Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents.

The jacket displays a Bulldog, and although I’d consider myself more of an Irish Setter, the rest of the cover spoke to my situation.

The book’s authors, Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew, don’t waste anytime before defining the mix of emotions behind the parental confusion with math homework.

Early on, they address the complaints many of us mumble: Why do they do it differently these days? How can I overcome my own fear of math? How can I get my child to enjoy math and be better at it than I was? And the basic, Why do they need to know this?

Perhaps most assuring is the very premise of the book: an official acknowledgement that math instruction has changed. Believe it or not, they tell us, some of the techniques are not actually new; some are ancient. But the move back to them is related to the demands of this modern world.

That all sounds dandy but it wouldn’t be very convincing if the authors didn’t do such a good job following up with a step-by-step explanations of these “new” techniques and the jargon associated with them.

They use humor, examples, games, and sections describing “inside kids’ heads” to help parents understand some of the misconceptions a child might have while learning. So much of this book is illuminating—laying out what our children are being asked to do and the stepping-stones of comprehension or miscomprehension that might foil the process.

I’ve been a voracious reader and we’ve already played many of the games suggested by the authors (yes, they even include Blackjack, although there’s no mention of wagering one’s allowance.)

I’ll confess, I am not reading ahead to the chapters on subjects my third grader has not yet covered in school. In some ways, I need to go backwards, reiterating concepts we may not have fully mastered in pervious units in other grades. And there are times when I not only feel my daughter’s struggle, but the one I felt when I was in her shoes. This time, however, we have a book to guide us, a book, I should say that is so dog-eared with pages to return to, that this old dog needs a better way to distinguish where she last stop reading.

Old Dogs, New Math is described as the “completely revised edition of Maths of Mums and Dads, which was first published by the authors in Great Britain in 2010….”

The co-authors are not from the United States, despite sounding as if they’ve been listening to parents at every back-to-school night in America.

Co-author, Mike Askew spent a year working with schools in New York.

And, Rob Eastaway explained through email:

“The situation with math(s) in the US is very similar to the situation in other English-speaking countries, particularly the UK. Also, we had an outstanding editor in New York, plus a couple of American teachers, who helped us to modify about 10% of the material so that the language and examples worked for a US audience.”

And finally, considering my own enthusiasm for the book, I asked if parents send them cookies in appreciation.

“Not yet,” Eastaway said. “ But there’s always a first…”

You can find Old Dogs, New Math: Homework help for puzzled parents on Amazon; you don’t even have to go look for dinosaurs.

If this is a topic of interest to you, you may enjoy a previous post on this blog about math curriculum.

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