The new new new math

The concept of new math has been around since I was a kid in school. The compulsion for parents to complain about the new math has existed as long. Numbers have interacted with each other in the same way since counting was invented, but once every generation, a new genius came up with a better way to teach children what Johnny had left after he gave Cindy three of his apples.

The generational advancements in mathematical technique seem to come about every other year now. Either we’re producing new educational super-innovators at a highly accelerated rate or the educational super-innovator from the year before last wasn’t quite the bright light we were sold.

It seems like every time I get presented with one of my kids’ curriculums, it comes with the announcement that the school has started a new math program. In theory, each new math program is better than the last. I wait for my kids to make amazing advances in their understanding of arithmetic. They make plodding advancements, but any disappointment I may feel is soon washed away by news the school will soon be adopting an innovative new math curriculum.

None of these new maths has ever turned a child of mine into anything approaching a budding mathematician. They do succeed at making it impossible for me to give my kids any meaningful help with their math homework.

I assure you, I use arithmetic almost daily. At the risk of seeming a braggart, I am fairly accomplished at 1st-3rd grade level arithmetic.

Can I answer the questions on my kids’ homework assignments? No. I cannot.

Yesterday, my 3rd grader came to me for help with the following question:

“Enter the division that is shown when the fourth multiplier finger is down: ___ ÷ ___ = ___”

I don’t know what the fourth multiplier finger is, or what it means. I know a lot more about what the third finger means, and I just about gave it to this math program. Then I remembered a child was present.

Anyhow, shouldn’t a math problem have some sort of numbers or variables in it?

I found numbers very helpful for learning math.

Fortunately, my boy knew just enough about the mysterious fourth finger to teach me that it somehow meant 4 x 9 = 36. He was sketchy on how division worked into it, though.

Being the math geniuses we are, father and son alike, we reversed it to 36 ÷ 9 = 4. It turns out that was the right answer. Don’t ask me why. It’s a genius thing.

It seems like math is nowadays most important to education in figuring out how much money can be made by selling new and improved programs to schools biannually. Ages ago, I learned that 3 x 9 = 27 without having to flip off any innocent bystanders, but maybe not flipping off bystanders is the mark of someone whose time has passed.

Stay tuned, in case I learn how fingers 1, 2, and 5 are useful to mankind.

In case you thought I was exaggerating. Here’s the answer screen for the graded homework.

Reflections inspired by a German class for second graders

Our eldest is beginning an after school German class today. This is not the sort of news that normally makes one reflective, but here I go anyway.

In a perfect world, I should be the one to teach my kids to speak German. Implicit in that perfection would be my knowing how to speak German. My father spoke German, fluently. In the perfect world I mentioned, he would have taught it to me when I was little. I would have soaked it up, and it would be as natural as English to me.

In the imperfect world that formed me, my father did no such thing. He was a teenager during the Second World War, living in the USA and speaking German as smoothly as his immigrant parents. Not surprisingly, something in that combination convinced him not to speak German to his children.

I took German as a freshman in college. It was either a language or Math, and I felt done with Math. I picked German. Maybe something in my genes would mold it to my tongue more securely than the high school Spanish that had always merely swilled about in my mouth before dribbling down my chin.

German 101 supplied me the worst grades of my academic career, if you discard the high school Geography class I nearly failed because I was too busy protesting the methods of the high school Geography class and the methods of high school in general.

The edition I used didn't have such a lovely cover, which is probably why I wasn't inspired to do better in class.

The edition I used didn’t have such a lovely cover, which is probably why I wasn’t inspired to do better in class.

After freshman year, I transferred to a school that required no more Math or foreign languages out of me, which was good since I was done applying myself mathematically and I had no aptitude for foreign languages.

In fact, I was a pretty lousy student overall.

As the undergraduate years rolled by, it became clear that I was a poor classroom learner. Yet, for the very best of reasons (I couldn’t find a job), I attempted graduate school.

Graduate school taught me only one thing: there is nothing like higher education to suck the life out of a subject matter you love (or thought you loved).

I thought I loved History, until I tried to pursue it as a graduate degree. Apparently, it was something else I loved, an academic Cyrano de Bergerac, hiding in the bushes, feeding enchanting lines to the deceitful mouth of History. History itself is mind-numbingly boring; they taught me that in one semester of graduate school.

Since I’d learned everything I needed to know about History, I determined I didn’t require more than one semester of grad school.

That was the end of my formal education in German or Math or History or anything. Abrupt, but okay for a rotten student.

My son is excited about his German class. I hope that excitement lasts. I hope he’s a good student. I hope he inherited his mother’s love for school.

I hope he goes on to become much more than a grad school dropout who can’t even speak German.