Friday, 14 November 2008

Going Back to Grade Three

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.


Josi said...

LOL--I would seriously be in so much trouble. My kids come home with math homework and they don't even ask me to help them. They know.

Jenn said...

I have a 2nd and a 4th grader, and it's really interesting to see the math they come home with. My 4th grader learned algebra before they even started in on long division. It makes sense, though. If you see a problem 32 / 8 = ? you find the answer by thinking, "what times 8 equals 32? Well, so why not teach the kids to write 8 X ? = 32

My 2nd grader is also learning some of the methods of addition you were talking about in your post. For instance, when you have 8 + 6, take 2 away from the 6, add it to the 8, and you have an easier problem - 10 + 4. Cinch. I always did stuff like that mentally, but wouldn't have thought to actually teach someone.

Anyway, good luck with the subbing!

ali cross said...

This is EXACTLY the problem I'm having with homeschooling my boys this year. I'm using a curriculum (it's actually a sort of charter school, so we have a teacher and all) and for each simple problem, they want me to teach at least three other methods.

The latest was something called 'circle math' or something like that. For multiplying. Have you seen that yet? it's grade three. Drove me crazy and neither my boys nor I could figure it out.

Finally got permission from the teacher to just skip that if it isn't working for us. As long as the boys can find the answers on their own, we're good.

But I'm with you - things were taught just one way when I was a kid. In a way I think it's better now, because what if a kid doesn't get it that usual way? But in another way, it's a lot of info and can be info overload. At least for me and my kids, anyway!

Congrats on the new job - bet you're gonna be awesome!!!

Anna Maria Junus said...

I remember teachers showing us how to solve problems on the board and thinking "why are they doing it the hard long way?"

I could easily come up with several different ways to solve a problem, but I didn't know how to show my work.

Teachers didn't understand. Or they said I still had to do it their way. But their way was often confusing.

I often wondered what the purpose of algebra was even though I liked it best out of all math.

But algebra teaches you how to break down a big problem into smaller pieces. Great technique you can use for other things.

Julie Wright said...

I am so glad I am not the one subbing. I have a hard enough time when my kids come home and need help. I stare at them blankly, and ask them if they want to know about verbs and nouns (they never do). You are one brave soul!

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