Tuesday, September 15, 2009

the problem of the day

We're having an interesting adjustment to public school. Mostly things are going swimmingly, although there are the expected feelings of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of students (him) and the bureaucracy required to handle those numbers (me.) Big One is going to have to learn to get very organized, very fast, but we knew that was going to happen. On balance, he's really pleased to be with other kids and to have other adults in his life.

The interesting part is math. Because of his standardized test scores, he placed into an accelerated math track, which means he'll be taking the state exam for ninth graders at the end of eighth grade. All good, great, terrific. The teacher of the accelerated math class does a Problem of the Day: the kids solve a problem at the start of class, then come up to the board and explain how they did it.

Big came home from school on Friday saying, "I totally bombed on the Problem of the Day in math class today. What is an LCM?" We did a quick table session over the weekend, talked about LCM (lowest common multiple), and he gets it. Problem solved. But it happened again on Monday, with GCF (greatest common factor). And I expect it's going to continue to happen, most days. His math journey has not been traditional, and I know there are going to be topics from the fifth grade curriculum that he's never seen.

This is where you might expect me to engage in some hand-wringing and doubt of myself as a teacher and a home school mom, where I might think I've done it all wrong and go the traditional route with Little, where I should recriminate myself and the non-traditional school Big attended.

Indeed, many parents did just that when they pulled their kids from our progressive school and put them in public school. I heard from parents more than once that our math program was weak in computation skills, and that they needed to heavily remediate when their kids went to a more traditional math curriculum.

But I'm not, because here's the thing: I know that Big is going to catch up, and I know that he has a math background that is excellent in other ways. He understands math. He has had some fabulous opportunities to use math for what it really is: reasoning at its most elemental level. He likes to think things through, he has a need to understand what he's doing, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

I'm not sure you can have it both ways. Either you emphasize reasoning and concepts, as I have done, or you emphasize quick computation skills and many topics, as most schools have traditionally done. You could theoretically have both, I suppose, but it would take a lot of time, and you would spend your entire elementary career doing math, and you'd miss out on something else equally important. You have to choose.

Little and I have chosen: we did our math and our reading for the day, and we're off to playgroup for some fresh air and running around with friends.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of what I hear about Waldorf schools: they don't teach reading until first grade, which puts the children behind their public-school peers. But they learn to love and understand language. They generally end up catching up to or outdoing their peers by third grade.

I don't think most kids enjoy pure computation for very long. It can be a fun part of learning (As a girl I had a little owl professor calculator thingy that gave you 2- and 3-digit addition and subtraction questions. I loved it, but it didn't help me *understand* math.) but you need concepts and thinking skills more.

JoVE said...

In the grand scheme of things not knowing a couple of acronyms or the name of a particular concept is pretty minor. Ever since I was in primary school myself I have heard a lot of kids saying that they don't like word problems because they can't figure out what they are supposed to do.

Well, math comes in complicated word problems once you get out of school. So if he's comfortable with that part he's way AHEAD of the pack.

Sullyce3 said...

Love it!!!

Granna Judy said...

Ok, my math-teacher-ness is showing up. I know this isn't really what you were writing about but I have to mention that there is no such thing as a GCM. There is no possible number that is the GREATEST common multiple of 3 and 5, for example -- 15 is a common multiple of them, and so is 30, and 45, and 60, and . . . . If infinity were a number, then infinity would satisfy it, but it's not a number, it's a concept.

I suspect what he was asked for on Monday was LEAST common multiple. Yes?


Granna Judy said...

And P.S. I totally support your position on this. It's far more important in the long run for him to understand concepts than it is for him to be able to perform computations. The computations are important but the concepts -- that's where it's really at.

Granna Judy said...

Further thought -- (SORRY!) -- it could also have been the LCD -- least common Divisor -- that he was asked for.

OK, I"ll put my nerd hat away now and rejoin the world.

VoodooMama said...

I figured maybe the GCM was a trick question(?) Anyway, at this rate, it sounds like the problem of the day is going to get him caught up on all the lingo pretty quickly!