Joined Nov 11, 2007
1,458 Blog Posts

# How the Hell Are They Teaching Math These Days?

I had hoped to post more tonight on Volatility-Based Allocation, but instead was stymied when I began working with my 6th grade son on his math homework. He is in advanced math, which probably means nothing, these days.

He was working on solving one step equations. A few of the problems on his homework required that he solve a one step equation with a fraction. An example of such an equation is this:  -¼x = 7. He was having a hard time with this type of equation.

It might be an easy jump to think with all my focus on statistics that I was good in math, growing up. I wasn’t. I hated it. I actually learned math for real real when I began learning how to code. I learned math in a way that worked for me, but that doesn’t mean I can teach it in a way that makes sense to my son.

With this deficiency in mind, I asked my son the default question which has no doubt been uttered by millions of parents, several times a week…

I kid you not, the following pictures are his actual notes. Click on the pictures to make them larger.

These were evidently teacher-directed, meaning she was demonstrating on the board how to fill in these sheets, and these were absolutely the only notes the teacher provided.

No wonder he is so confused. I guess this is the New Math where schools demonstrate their understanding of different learning styles by teaching math in a way that no one understands. This way it is all equal. No student understands it more than any other one.

1. My kid is in 7th grade…its an abortion. They also have them doing PowerPoint presentations instead of writing reports. Fucking imbeciles. I have forgotten more about math and writing than most Teachers under the age of 40 will ever know.

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• It is a nightmare. I mean really. He comes home with 3 different ways to solve a problem but is never given 1 set of absolute rules. WTF? What happened to saying, “these are the rules” and then letting the kids practice using the rules? Instead, it is all conceptual math. And seriously, their rationale for this is to tap in to different learning styles, yet they are ignoring the research that demonstrates that teachers teaching to different learning styles doesn’t work.

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2. for most people, basic math – right up thru trig and probably calc – is best learned by a rigid / rote system. There’s no question about that. Until you get beyond Diff Eq’s and Vectors & Matrices in college (300 level) that you really need to “think about it”.

Hell, one of the best engineering classes I took was Dynamics (ME 201), the prof had an almost cookbook method to approaching any problem. Once you mastered that, you could dabble with advanced problems. But unless you understand the basic principles and methods, how the hell can you apply creative solutions to difficult problems? Answer: you can’t. But that’s just me. What the hell do I know with my MSEE.

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• I agree about the rigid / rote system. For my son, drill and kill is what works.

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3. I think notes should be numbers and processing rules, not visual elements like boxes. In someone’s mind, things could be considered with visual elements, but for calculations I think numbers are best. That is, the concept might become clear by looking at a flock of birds or counting apples, but the proof is the calculation.

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• Exactly! Processing rules!

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4. Wait till your kids are diagnosed as learning disabled or told to see psychiatrists. You’ll go through hell. At least these things seem to sort themselves out by middle of high school, so only a few years to go. My daughter spent three years in special ed, finally done by 8th grade. She’s now in Mech Eng honors program in college, so the school couldn’t completely ruin her mind 🙂

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5. That really looks horrific. I can’t believe they wouldn’t just teach the “isolate the x” method. It almost seems like they are doing that but with pictures of +’s and -‘s. Maybe the rationale is the kids will learn better visually than conceptually. But in an “advanced” class?

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• lol..the problem is is that those notes are how they are teaching “isolate the x.”

The big push is to understand the concept. I guess the thinking is that if you understand the concept then you don’t need to drill the rules/procedures? I don’t know.

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6. wood, if you haven’t heard of it, check out the Khan academy… This is a good starter video to understand some of it’s potential benefits.. https://www.khanacademy.org/talks-and-interviews/v/khan-academy-vision-and-social-return

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• We use Khan a fair amount. My sister showed me it. She teaches 3rd grade.

There are tons of good youtube videos out there as well that teach math the old school methods.

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7. It’s a discrete approach to Algebra. The student is given a flat mat with two sides.

On one side, there’s an x and some stones or cubes representing addition/subtraction. The middle line means “equals” to.

The student needs to isolate the x terms by physically moving (adding or subtracting) objects from one side or the other.

I sort of vaguely remember being taught this at one point, but it’s really geared for the hands on learners. If your kid is the kind who can just run with it in his head, this whole approach might be a distraction.

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• It looks like the large rectangles denote X terms, while the small squares denote integers. A positive or negative on the rectangles or squares denotes whether the integer is positive or negative.

How you begin to represent fractions in this system, I have no idea.

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8. I think what they are trying to get at is that kids can plug numbers in and solve equations, etc. but they can’t apply any of those skills to word problems, even simple ones. What is being taught here, then, is how to move between problems expressed as words/sentences and problems expressed in mathematical terms (i think–but I’m not a teacher)

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• You are right. They are having problems with word problems, and so part of this is to help with word problems…But what’s the point of transitioning between problems expressed as words and sentences to mathematical terms when you can’t solve the mathematical equation?

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• Fair enough. Also seems like a complicated way of getting them to see that words like “product” and “difference” and even “is” have specific meanings that can be expressed as signs and relationships in a mathematical equation. And where are the notes for “inverse operations”?

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• There are no notes for “inverse operations.” And that is exactly the problem.

Now they did have notes where they translated words such as “product” and “difference” into the signs, and guess what, he gets that no problem because the relationship expressed is a simple one: when you see this word it means this.

He needs the rules for solving one step equations expressed the same way, which is what gravestone was saying when he wrote that basic math is best learned by a rigid/rote system.

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9. i’m only like 10 years removed from that stuff, but it looks like a world of difference. thats some weird stuff going on

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10. Tried to hire a boy-Friday for answering phone, light typing, errands writing accurate messages .He labors for nearly 1hr to fill i sheet of paper..simple generic appl.form. 50%+ horrible spelling.I had to ask what the words were.And it was printed like a third grader. I asked him why he didn t write in longhand and he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘they don t teach that’..a High school Diploma proudly accomanired him.This is from Baltimore that was awarded best schools with highest test achievment..Even though many teachers went to the one newspaper and told how they were instructed to teach to the test..they retired..Aired on local tvs stations 1 or 2 times then not another word..kid was inner citywhere was Sharpton

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• lol…What’s cursive? Yep, my 6th grader was taught but they’ve removed it from the curriculum now.

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• Isn’t a “cursive word” something you say when your ;ittle finger keeps smacking the ; key instead of the ;…

the ;….

the…son of a bitch

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11. Another story:
When my daughter was having problems with fractions in math, the teacher asked us at a conference if we (the parents) weren’t good at math, either. Hoping that she could say our bad attitude towards math contributed to our daughters issues. I’m BSEE, and wife is MSCS, so not too dumb. I replied: “Yeah, I always have problems with those damned 2nd order Bessel functions”. Wife kicked me, and teacher never went down that road again.

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• lol…We’ve already met with the teacher and asst. principal. The teacher gives assessments and then doesn’t give them back to the students for 2 – 3 weeks. Seriously. So he studies, fails (but doesn’t know it), moves on, and then weeks later gets back a failing grade. It is a nightmare.

To make matters worse, when we try and help, we are left trying to decipher the crazy notes and methods. Half of my time helping my son is spent with us arguing and him telling me “but she didn’t teach us that way.”

Lately he has gotten so frustrated that he doesn’t argue as much. When presented with a new concept, he just comes home and tells me about it and then we learn it the old school method.

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• woodshedder's wife

LOL…perfect. We’re not quite as dumb as they think we are…

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12. #1: Stop complaining, either change his class or his school or home school him. Problem solved.
#2: Younger students learn better using hands-on, concrete materials to model more abstract ideas, like algebraic equations. He is a ‘young’ student compared to the older students who would normally be learning this concept using mainly paper and pencil methods. Therefore, if he were to wait a year or two and learn algebra with the eighth graders, he would use the methods you described. You may not have had algebra as a sixth grader.
#3: The lessons you are really teaching him are: Do not trust teachers, do not think, just follow rules and do as you are told, and the ever popular, if you don’t like the way something is done, don’t try to understand it, just gripe and complain long enough and maybe you can get out of it.

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• Caihlyn,
#1 He is on a team so if this class is changed his entire team is changed. Seems silly to change his entire schedule, including all of this friends, teachers, etc., in January, no? Why punish my son because his teacher sucks?
#2 Can you provide any research with a valid experimental design that suggests that “younger students learn better using hands-on, concrete materials to model more abstract ideas”?
#3 You have absolutely no idea what I am “really” teaching him. I can absolutely guarantee you that. Lol…Because telling someone that there are quantifiable rules for solving equations teaches them not to think. Lol… Instead, I have freed his brain up to think about problems that do not have a clearly defined set of rules to help you solve them. Those are the problems that require curiosity, inquisitiveness, and abstract ideas to understand. Not one step equations.

Let me ask you this. When you learned how to drive, did you get to practice running the car off the road? Driving in reverse when trying to go forward? Turning left when you should have turned right? Did someone teach you the theory behind driving or did they teach you the rules? Of course they taught you the rules. And I bet you survived having someone tell you the exact rules to driving, and I bet you still trust teachers and still try to understand why something is done in a particular way.

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13. For many decades, new elementary & middle school teaching methods have started in California and have worked their way across the country where they then are slowly exposed as being ineffective and damaging. Sounds like this is still happening after looking at your son’s notes. I will always say that “drill and kill” is the best method.

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• Its always California, isn’t it? When will it just fall off the continent? Apologies to my west coasters.

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