I've started subbing as an educational assistant at the elementary school. For the past two weeks I've been working with a little boy in one of the grade three classrooms. This should be easy right? Most of it isn't too bad, but then we get to math. Math has never been one of my strengths but grade three math - we are just adding and subtracting so it should be easy.
So the teacher writes a question on the board. Something basic like "36+27=" then says to the kids, "Show me three ways to solve this problem."
Okay, I know it has been a very long time since grade three, but I could only think of one way. With a little time, I managed to come up with two, but that stretched my brain and left me stumped. Luckily for me, the little boy I'm working with took long enough doing the first two ways, that we didn't have time for a third way.
Then the other children in the class took turns going to the whiteboard to show the methods they used to solve this problem. (What ever happened to a good old-fashioned chalkboard? This is making me feel older all the time.) Here is what they came up with.
36+27 = 63
III 000000 + II 0000000 = 63 (where each line represents ten and each circle represents one)
36+27 = 50+13 = 63 (Instead of carrying numbers, you add the tens column, add the ones column and then add the two answers together.)
40+23 = 63 (huh?) (The student explained she borrowed 4 from the 27 to make the 36 into a 40 and then it was easier to add 23 to 40).
There were more solutions and all of them ended up with the same answer.
When I went to elementary school we were taught one way to do problems. We had to show our work. If the method used to come up with the answer didn't match the teacher's method the question was marked as wrong. It seems in those days there was only one way to add. Today, these students learn the rules that 36+27 always = 63 but then they learn different strategies to make the math easier for them. When they come up with a different way to do the problem, as long as the method gives them the correct answer and still follows the rules, they are praised for using the "natural calculator between their ears."
I really do think I need to take math all over again. Maybe I could get over some of my insecurities when it comes to numbers. Maybe grade three is a good place to be.