mathhomworkBy Sarah Vander Schaaff

I fell asleep twenty years ago and awoke to find that numbers are added together in a whole new way. It’s called partial sum addition and if you’re the parent of a seven-year-old you might know what I’m talking about.

Some schools send home a study guide or handbook to help parents help their grade school kids. Mine did not or if they did I missed it among the forms. It was only after a parent-teacher conference in November that I realized how different everything was, not only with addition but also with subtraction.

“We don’t borrow from the ten’s anymore,” the teacher explained, “because you don’t ever really give it back, do you?”

No, you don’t, and to be fair the new system seemed to be working for my daughter. I just wanted to be able to keep up and not toss out a term that apparently hasn’t been used since the Reagan administration.

I turned to a reader and friend who’s been teaching math for more than ten years to ask: what do I not know I don’t know about this new world of math?

Without missing a beat, the veteran teacher explained that there are a few terms be familiar with.

First, she explained there’s Everyday Math, which came out of the University of Chicago and is popular in public schools.

“It uses the concept of spiral learning where you touch on a topic and then spin around to another topic and build upon that.” It works well for high achieving kids, she said, who can say, “Oh, I see how dominoes connect with binary numbers.”

Everyday Math she explained, also asks students to justify their answers and explain their thought process.

In contrast, our veteran math teacher said, was another popular system called Singapore Math.

“It’s hard-core drilling” of math facts she explained. “You do a lot a math and you do it over and over again.”

Neither system is without problems, she said. Some students don’t follow the leaps made in Everyday Math. A student can end up feeling lost in the spirals, never grasping the concepts and the parent, looking for progress, wants more drilling of facts.

It’s then she said, that the parent heads to something supplemental, such as a program like Kumon.

Singapore Math, in contrast, can at times be perceived as more narrow in approach. It can feel as if a student is being asked to simply “…get the facts…don’t ask why,” she explained.

There’s another approach, one used with the lower school students with learning differences at the small independent school where she teaches, called Making Math Real, which comes out of California.

In some ways, she explained, Making Math Real takes the best of the Montessori method of making math concrete, but it also reaches students who learn in different ways by using a multi-sensory approach.

Need to learn the multiples of nine?

“Say it out loud—point to the numbers…”

It’s worth knowing what type of math your child’s school uses. And what works with one child, the veteran math teaches said, might not work with a sibling.

So how can I keep up? How might I avoid stacking those numbers or asking my daughter to “borrow” from another digit in an act of irresponsible lending?

Well, eventually, she said, traditional math shows up again, but it’s not always the first way a student is taught how to do, say, multiplication.

“Once a child is a bit older,” the veteran suggested, if you’re helping your child with his or her homework you might ask, “Can you tell me how the teacher explained it?”

If that fails, she said, go to the computer and, “try to find a video.”

Have you experienced a similar situation when helping your child with his or her homework, not only with math but in other subjects as well?

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