In education it is very common to see the pendulum swing from side conservative learning to the other side, modern day learning. It is mostly seen in reading and math. When I was in school I learned math the old way and learned to read the new way. Surprisingly, I was far better at math then I was at reading. Part of the reason was in my mind I couldn’t understand the rules of reading why one time the C is hard and another time the C is soft. But in math, 2+2 always equaled 4. The reason I struggled in reading was I learned whole language NOT phonics.
In math today there are many new programs that can be bought into which schools and states buy into and it is nothing MORE than a monetary issue. Who has the best product for the lowest price and this is very evident by looking at the textbooks from state to state. It is the same material with local information added at the end and beginning of most chapters.
Old math is very conventional, it compounds and it doesn’t go on until you have mastered step one. In old math you use manipulatives , but it is only the building blocks to reach the mastery level. Once this stage is left you can enter into a more paper and pencil type of math. This is how I learned math and because of this I was quite capable of teaching and learning math.
New math is much more hands on and topic oriented. For instance our next generation math standards across the county address adding, so you add money, add in story problems, and add anywhere it matters. They are also hands on for most of the time and offer manipulatives throughout the entire teaching time and omit a lot of the “old school” paper and pencil parts.
Which method do I feel is best suited for students? Well I would say neither, but I would say there is great research and documentation that validates both ideas and because of this research I feel we actually need a NEW New math. One that understands the importance of repetition of simple and basic math facts, but also recognizes that fact that math needs to be real world in order for our current generation of students to be hooked. In my ultimate opinion, I feel math is such a foundational skill each student has to MASTER, not know how, or be able to manipulate things, but actually complete a skill on paper and for real world purposes before they move onto the next topic. This is currently something that is wanted by all schools across America, but because of High Stakes Testing, we have to cover so much content is such little time that we can only touch the basics of this skill.
For instance this year I have a map of learning created for me to teach, but I was expected to teach adding up to four digits in 10 school days. This isn’t too hard unless you go and add in money, word problems, and units of measurement like feet, inches, etc. These individual skills were expected to be mastered in 10 days. When I received my students this year I had a group of 5 that could not find a page number in a book because they didn’t know their numbers. How do you teach them and the rest of the class in 10 days? Well my simple answer was this, Rome wasn’t built over night. If we cherish education, then we need to think about what is being expected and high stakes testing eliminates close a quarter of the year for time to teach. Most states test their students before the fourth quarter of school starts. So 9 weeks of learning is devoted to review and preparation for the next grade instead of being able to spend more time and master the content which is required to learn. In all, I don’t have a favorite style of math, I use one that is more of a combination of the two.