Thoughts on math

Suddenly I can’t stop writing about math. The issue at stake is that I’m a language arts type of person. I have confidence I’m able to teach reading and writing to my daughters, to teach them to love and to apply those disciplines to their life. I already do that. I read to learn about God, to enrich my life, to broaden my point of view about different things, to learn about the world around me, for the beauty that connecting with another author and through him or her to other places and people represents. I write to communicate, to learn, to leave some of me for my girls when I’m gone, to express myself; I’ve written to get jobs, I write thank you notes, grocery lists…but math, I’ve never thought I’d like math or never saw me as a person with a strong math foundation or ability.

That IS CHANGING. The Living Math website has taken me to some books that are revealing something that we all know about math but that it’s suppressed in us with years of traditional math assassination in the elementary schools as I call it. We all know we use math in our life, when we balance our check book, when we go to the floor store with measurements to have new floors installed, when we cook, when we calculate mileage in our car, when we compare prices, calculate tips…and yet we keep approaching math as a subject to be taught in isolation, and we keep thinking math is computation and word problems. It’s about time we give math the benefit of the doubt and we can start by listen to these alive, creative, and wonderful mathematicians that are working so diligently to bring out the math in us, and to instill that love in our children.

Listen to Marilyn Burns:
Facility with computation does not ensure children’s ability to know when to use those skills in problem situations. Problem situations should be the starting place for developing arithmetic understanding, thereby establishing the need and context for computation skills. Children need to see that learning to compute serves a purpose -for solving problems. Too often, the message is reversed, and children see word problems as a way of providing computation practice, and a mysterious way at that.
This suggestion does not mean that teachers should begin arithmetic instruction by assigning the word problems in the textbook. Assigning word problems accomplishes no more than testing students’ abilities to solve those problems. It’s teaching that is needed, not testing. Teachers should present word problems for children to discuss and find solutions, without the distraction of numerical symbols.(emphasis mine) The goal is for the children to generalize for themselves – from many, many experiences – how the arithmetic operations are described in the language of the real world. Also, students should be encouraged to figure their own ways to arrive at solutions and make sense of situations numerically. (page 13)

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