I thought I knew how to add

I thought I knew how to do simple addition but it appears to have changed in the last few years. I’m no longer capable of teaching my kids how to do math—at least the way they learn how to do it at school. And, boy oh boy, am I ever at odds with the new math curriculum and methodology that my kids are using. Now might be a good time to tell you I have my bachelor’s degree in psychology and my master’s degree in elementary education. I have taught first and fourth grade, I now teach preschool and have tutored kids in math at almost every level. But most importantly, I have four kids—two six-year-olds, a nine-year-old and a fourteen-year-old.

When my oldest was in elementary school, there was a great emphasis placed on math facts. He had weekly fact tests to assess his skills and quickly learned all of his addition, subtraction and multiplication facts. My fourth grader did not learn her math facts that way and neither have my other two. The curriculum has turned more conceptual and visual and I believe it is doing them a great disservice. Here are some examples of the “new math” for those who don’t have young children…
When a child sees a problem like 7+8 they are taught to think the double of 7 is 14 and 1 more is 15.
When a child sees 8+3 they are taught to think take 2 to make 10 and then add 1 more and you get 11.
When a child sees 13-8 they are supposed to start with 8 and say 2 more makes 10. 3 more gets me to 13 so 2 more and 3 more is 5.
**These examples are based on and taken from a county Math sheet that came home with report cards this week.**
The goal of this program is to help a child get the math answer in three seconds or less without resorting to counting.

So, I’ll admit my evidence is only based on what I see and I have not spent that much time researching why the methods have changed. But I cringe when I hear my kids using these methods. When I hear them saying, “Well, the double of 8 is 16 so one more is…” I stop them and review the facts because I can’t understand why it’s okay to only memorize the facts for doubles. And clearly, using this method takes longer than three seconds especially for subtraction. At this point when my fourth grader is adding simple numbers it is for a multi-step problem. The addition is usually the first step and it needs to be done quickly and accurately to move on to the next part of the equation. A child simply cannot do algebraic multi-step math problems and get hung up thinking about addition and subtraction this way when they are solving for x or doing more complicated math. The facts need to be automatic and drilled into their brains. 99% of the time, I believe rote memorization is not necessary as I am a firm believer in developing a child’s ability to think critically. Math facts are the only thing that needs to be memorized.

I know all children learn differently. I see that daily in the classroom and I see it constantly at home. One of my six-year-olds can do any type of math in their head, can count by 13s and answers problems that I ask our nine-year-old daughter before she has a chance. For this child, it doesn’t matter which way the math is presented. But my other two need the confidence of knowing the basic facts. The method prescribed by the new curriculum has a greater opportunity for error than simple memorization.

I have been silently enraged by this new math for the last three years as I watched the pendulum shift. I don’t think I have the gumption to try and work to change anything. Instead, the little Farley kids have spent their exorbitant amount of snow days doing math facts. The other day as I was trolling Facebook, I found this blog post. IT HURTS MY BRAIN! If the brain development research the blog links to are correct, this whole new method is developmentally inappropriate to begin with.

Math fact fluency is non-negotiable and the only way kids are going to get that is by practicing their facts. I know it is important for the kids to be excited about math and not bored but the greatest concern should be that they are learning their math. I love this quote from the University of Chicago’s website, “Knowing the basic facts is as important to mathematics as knowing basic words by sight is to reading.”

Before I finish I need to say a word about teachers…especially my kids’ teachers. They are the best of the best. They work endless hours trying to negotiate what works in the classroom and what they are told the need to do. The constant testing, especially in the early grades, they are faced with is another source of great aggravation for me and I cannot imagine how they deal with it. They are forced to teach to the test and since kids are required to explain all of their math answers now they need to teach some sort of methodology. Teachers’ plates are piled way too high and the Farley kids are fortunate to have passionate and compassionate teachers.

Now it’s your turn…set me straight. Prove me wrong. Tell me this new methodology is going to lead to greatly advanced math students and I’m worrying for nothing because right now, this mom is worried.

6 comments on “I thought I knew how to add

  1. Michelle James on said:

    You are spot on. My children learned their math facts at an early age and math was never an issue for them. I played math games with them from about 2 years of age while riding in the car. (Joey and three of his friends are playing in the snow, and Billy’s mom call’s Billy in, how many are playing in the snow?) My oldest son majored in math and computer science in college, my middle son, described by his teachers as having a perfect math mind, became an architect, and my youngest son is a mechanical engineer – all with advanced degrees in their subject areas. They started by learning their math facts – boring as it may be to memorize. I truly don’t know why we have to mess with what works. Some schools have even dropped cursive writing from their curriculums.

    • Julie Farley on said:

      Thanks for your comment, Michelle! I completely agree. It’s such an important issue to me. I realize what’s happening and can help my kids. There are a lot of other parents who are trusting schools to teach them the right things and that’s not always happening.

  2. Bob Olsen on said:

    I have to agree with you. I believe the” old way” is the right way. Kids should learn their math facts. I would call the ” new method” a strategy for those who can’t remember the math facts, they should have been memorizing in the first place. I will ask my daughters about it since between the two of them they have 4 in elementary right now.

  3. Dianne Mallory-Coble on said:

    Julie, thanks for reaching out to me and inviting me to check out your blog. First, I admire your discipline to even have a blog. Second, I enjoyed your refreshing way of sharing your stories.

    Anyway, what you wrote about how your children were learning to add made me very curious. Just as you said, and I agree, much has changed in our classrooms over both short and longer periods of time.

    One of my values, as a candidate and if elected as a school board member, is to be knowledgeable and to share what I learn with our community. So, I took advantage of an opportunity I had when visiting one of the our Midlothian elementary schools today. I asked the principal about how your young children were being taught how to add and subtract using ‘doubles’. I also checked with my daughter, who is doing her student teaching and who will be endorsed to teach K through 12. While they both answered in different ways, they both said that way of teaching adding and subtraction was one of several instructional strategies to teach young children how to do the math operations of adding and subtracting. So, what I gathered is that ‘double’ is one of a number of ways children are taught to add and subtract. I wonder what other strategies are being used at your school, too?

    Just as you described the wonderful teachers at your children’s school, I saw many wonderful teachers (and administrators) at the four Midlothian schools I saw today. Our school system is worth making the highest investment we can.

    Julie, thanks for making me do some research in order to some information about your observation regarding how your children are learning. You helped me to become more knowledgeable.

  4. Liz Dorneman on said:

    Julie —

    great point. I’ve been saying this for awhile now — as you know, I have a 15 yr old that memorized math facts, so did the 12 year old for the early years – although now she is being confused with new strategies. My 8 year old, 2nd grade, is learning this. He is a great math thinker. He gets it. BUT — it takes longer to do it this way — he only “gets” it because he already multiplies and divides. He learned very early his facts by good old memorizing and well, numbers are just his thing. But I cannot help when he has to “show his work” anymore. When it’s wrong, I don’t know. I’m all for modern times, but I also believe a bit of old school ways are better — I’m pretty decent at math, and I certainly just memorized!! Thanks for bringing this up.

    • Julie Farley on said:

      Liz, One of mine, Ethan, is the same way. He counts by 13s, multiplies etc. It doesn’t matter how he does it…he can do it. And you are so right, they get the new way ONLY because they can do the other things. For others who do not have their facts down, the new way is very difficult. Thanks for weighing in, Liz!

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