New Math?


When I was a teacher, the first time I had parent-teacher conferences, I remember being so nervous I almost wet my pants.  Well, I shouldn’t have worried.  It’s MUCH worse being the parent!

As you may have guessed, we had parent-teacher conferences at my son’s school last night.  Everything went well.  But I just do NOT get this new fangled math.  Whatever happened to giving kids 30 problems to solve and calling it a day?  Every math paper the teacher showed me had about five problems, and then for each one the kids had three or four lines in which to write an explanation for how they arrived at the answer. 


His teacher explained how they discuss different ways to arrive at the same answer and how wonderful it is because it’s a collaborative effort, and the children learn from one another.  It gives them some sort of ownership over the concept and involves them instead of just telling them how to do it one specific way.


I remember when I was in school, sometimes a teacher would take points off because I didn’t arrive at the answer using the method I was taught.  Or because I didn’t show my work.  I never got that.  If the answer is correct, who cares how you got it?

Nowadays it’s evidently okay to have various ways of arriving at an answer, but now they have to explain how they got it.  And I say again, if the answer is right, WHO CARES HOW YOU GOT IT!????

What am I missing here??  Can someone please enlighten me?

The teacher told me that explaining how he arrived at an answer is an area my son needs to work on.  Nevermind that he can do double digit addition and subtraction and is working on simple multiplication and division.  (He likes to do math problems at home for fun.  He’s his father’s son, for sure.  Math for fun.  Isn’t that an oxymoron?)  In school he is working on recognizing patterns and then writing an explanation of the pattern.

I looked at the paper the teacher showed me as an example of his work and said that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell her how I arrived at the answer.  You just KNOW! 

Funny, she said that’s what my son says.  What’s that saying about the apple and the tree?  Yeah.

One question that gave me a chuckle was when the kids were asked to tell how they know if a number is even or odd.  My son wrote, "Because my first grade teacher Mrs. R— told me."

His teacher and I both got a chuckle out of that.

She is a veteran teacher who is obviously still very enthusiastic about her job.  I am very pleased with her.  She feels there is a lot of value to this new method of learning math, and maybe there is.  But I’m dubious.  I need to find out more about it.  Meanwhile, I guess we will just continue supplementing at home.

UPDATE:  These comments are great.  And giving me some peace of mind.  Last night I was about to start researching homeschool materials.  I wanted to respond to a few themes in the comments. 

First, my son does have an aptitude for math.  I wonder if this method is better for kids who struggle?  It seems to me that if a kid "just gets it" then why not move on to bigger and better things?  But perhaps learning different strategies and really understanding the underlying concepts will serve him well.

They are also working on memorizing the basic math facts, using the "Mad Minute" which I used when I taught third grade.  So they don’t seem to be excluding the basics.  I just wish they were moving along faster, but maybe it’s all a wash in the end.  As I said, what do I know?

The other thing I have to say is that we were concerned that our son might not be challenged enough, so in a way I’m glad to hear that there is an area he can work on.  At least I know he’s not bored.