New doesn’t always equal bad

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

One of the hot topics in elementary school these days is Singapore math, or what people commonly call “new math.” In short, Singapore math teaches kids mathematical concepts in three ways: concrete, pictoral, and abstract. “Old math” — or, the way most current elementary parents were taught — was largely abstract, putting a focus on rote memorization and not as much with understanding the whys behind the concepts or how numbers can be manipulated once you understand place-value concepts. New math aims to add these other approaches in an effort to get kids to understand the meaning behind the math calculations they are doing.

Parent reaction to new math is often negative and very vocal. Part of it is that it’s often difficult to help your kids with homework when you know one way to do a math problem, but that’s not the approach the homework is asking for, leaving you feeling helpless as a parent. And one weakness is that there’s not much effort to educate parents about the new math approach, leaving frustrations high for both parents and kids.

But I think part of it, too, is the fact that many parents refuse to see value in anything out of their comfort zone — or rather, different from what they learned themselves — and they do not give new math concepts a fair shake. They are quick to declare that it’s “the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen” and “This is not math, this is garbage.” (Two direct quotes from a friend’s FB post on the topic.)

And what’s even better is when these people criticize the new-math approach, then a few sentences later talk about how they themselves are “bad at math.” Well, if that’s the case, then rote memorization DIDN’T do the trick for them, did it? Should we want better for our kids, even if (especially if!) it means taking a different approach than what you did in your own education?

I think if most parents took a few minutes to look at their kids’ homework with an open mind, they might see that this approach really holds some value and shouldn’t be brushed off just because it’s different from previous methods. A big part of new math is knowing how to do manipulations with numbers — which many adults do all the time in everyday life.

Let’s say I need to figure out a 15% tip on dinner, but I don’t have any scrap paper handy to do the exact calculation the old-fashioned way. And we’ll just pretend I don’t have access to a calculator, either. Well, I don’t know right off how much 15% of my total is, but I DO know how to calculate 10% easily, then I halve that amount and add it to my 10% calculation. Voila — I’ve just figured out 15%, but I didn’t do it the traditional math way — I did it using the new-math approach.

Another example: The other day, I blanked out on what 11×11 was. So I did 11×10 in my head first, because I knew that right off, then added the remaining 11 to it to get my final answer. Yes, I blanked out on what I once had memorized, but I still reached the answer I needed because I knew how best to manipulate the numbers. So much of everyday life math is done in your head — often there’s not time to pull out paper to write it out or even grab a calculator. Knowing how to manipulate numbers is a useful skill to have.

And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. So far all of The Big Sis’s teachers have said they still teach concepts the old way in addition to the new way, that some kids are more comfortable with one method while other kids are better at another way. So why not offer an additional tool to students so our own kids don’t grow up proclaiming to others that they too are “bad at math”?

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Activity shift

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I’ve never been one of those parents with a great desire to overpack our family’s schedule with endless sports and activities. Most of the time, The Big Sis has just one activity going on at one time, especially if it involves a weeknight commitment. (Weeknights are crazy enough just getting dinner together, homework done, and everyone to bed at a semi-decent time.) Last year we did allow her to do dance (September through May) and then academic challenge team (I think that was from October until March), which at times was a bit much to juggle, but we managed okay.

At first we thought she wanted to do a different dance class this year, but when we got the class options, she was more interested in the cultural arts offerings than in any of the dance classes. These cultural arts classes run from October to December (10 weeks) instead of the whole school year, and they’re about half the cost of the dance classes. The two she was most interested in were Youth Drumming and Archery — and, miracle of miracles, they were being held on the same night of the week, back to back. (Youth Drumming = 6 to 7 p.m.; Archery = 7 to 8:15 p.m.) It’ll make for long Tuesday nights, of course, but I think I’d rather do that than have two activities on two different nights.

Once we got her signed up for those, she came home with an information sheet for Girl Scouts. She had shown interest in doing that last year, but we ended up passing on it. I’ve heard of others doing Girls Scouts or Boy Scouts and having just a once-a-month or twice-a-month time commitment, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to let her do that as well. Well, come to find out, her Brownie troop has basically a once-a-week commitment, which is more than I was counting on, but she’s very excited about doing this, and I do think it’ll be good for her, so we’ll let her participate this year and see how it goes. (And clearly it’s not like she has to attend EVERY week if it becomes too much.)

This week she ended up bringing home a flyer for the Girls on the Run program, which I think she’d like and would be a good experience for her and I’d really be interested in having her sign up for it because it’s a good program, but unfortunately that requires a time commitment of two days a week (Mon and Wed) right after school, which would mean The Husband or I would have to leave work early both of those days to pick her up, and that’s not ideal right now. Maybe she can consider doing that during another year, or perhaps even in the spring when she won’t have the drumming and archery classes at the same time.

Now, we’ve figured out The Big Sis’s activities for the immediate future, but we’ve sort of neglected doing anything for The Little Sis this year. Granted, a big reason is because we tried doing a preschool tumbling class for her last year and that didn’t go well (she didn’t want to leave my side, so we had to quit after three classes during we she never actually participated), and I’m a little gun shy about trying again. I’m considering, though, whether we should find a Saturday morning class for her this fall, perhaps swimming or a shorter (8-week) dance or movement class — one of the types of things that The Big Sis was doing at that age. I definitely don’t want another weeknight commitment at this point! I don’t love the idea of getting up early on Saturdays, but it’s better than another night of fractured dinners and rushed bedtimes.

When we get in the midst of this and I’m cursing myself for taking on more than we’d planned, remind me that at least we’re not doing something like soccer or softball that requires multiple weekday practices plus weekend games and tournaments!


Four-year well check

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Little Sis had her four-year checkup at the pediatrician yesterday. The Husband had to take her since I’m on crutches still, but he says everything went well.

Her stats:

Weight: 48 pounds (95th percentile)
Height: 42 1/4 inches (90th percentile)
BMI: 19 (greater than 95th percentile)

Her milestone questions:

Can your child balance on one foot for 2 seconds? (yes)
Can your child draw a circle? (yes)
Do others understand all of his/her speech? (yes)
Can your child name at least four colors? (yes)
Can your child play games with rules? (yes)

She finished up the appointment with four shots, which I remember being pretty terrible with The Big Sis. (I never even teared up during earlier shots, but I remember getting kind of upset at the four-year shots with her.) She did great with the first two, then cried with the second two, but she got her stickers and then some Dunkin Donuts with The Husband after, so it was all good. I praised her for being so brave, and she confided, “But I wasn’t all the way brave. I was scared a little.” I assured her that she had plenty of brave in her to do it, and she seemed pleased with that.

Now we get a break on shots with her — no more required until she’s 12! Hooray!