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Ah….it’s that wonderful time of day after school again. You know, when the kids run into the house like lunatics ….staarrvinng because it’s been so long since they last ate. While inhaling their snacks, they open their backpacks (which weigh as much as they do, I’m convinced) and take out their homework. My son is off and running with little help because he is in second grade. The homework is still manageable and he is able to do it without needing any extra help. My daughter, on the other hand, is caught in an abyss–a black hole filled with division problems and remainders and no answers. To complicate matters, the school has divised (no pun intended) a new “investigative” way to do long division problems. I have an M. Ed. Granted, I taught high school, but I can certainly tutor a fourth grader with math issues. Only I have no idea whatsoever what the hell this “investigative” math is or how to do it! All I can think when I am looking at the examples is how it seems like 20 extra steps to get to the same quotient. I am also thinking that there is no way she would have the time to find the answer if she were taking a timed test such as NECAP. I tell her to wait for Dad and we will try to help her together. She spends the next hour and a half at the counter trying to finish up the homework in her other subjects. Just as an aside, when I taught school, I used homework as a reinforcement of what I taught that day. If it took my students any more than 20 minutes or so to do my assignment or if I had to assign hours of homework then I didn’t do my job that day. I have always felt that way. Kids go to school for six hours a day. Should they have homework? Yes. Should they have hours of homework each night….especially in fourth grade? NO!
Back to division. My husband comes home and rolls up his sleeves ready to tackle the problem . He is a dentist–just to put things into a little perspective. He looks at me with a smirk because he thinks I have forgotten how to do basic math. He looks at the example and then back at me. The smirk is gone. He has no idea what this is. There is now a satisfactional smirk on my face =) We tell our daughter we will be more than happy to help her with math, but we only know one way–the traditional way–to do long division. So, I start to explain it the way I learned it. She gets mad, says I have no idea what I’m talking about and requests her father. He steps in and proceeds to teach her exactly the same way. She is now even more confused. She calls us both stupid and cries. We can’t help her, we have no idea what we are doing, and she can’t believe we got this far in life without knowing this stuff.
The scenario sounds funny and I wrote about it in a light hearted way, but I did take it seriously. I remember all too well the “whole language movement” disaster they tried with Language Arts. There are now a slew of people from about 30-35 or so who can’t spell, who have trouble reading, and who cannot write a paragraph to save their lives. I certainly would hate to see this repeated with these children because of “investigative math”. I think screwing with math would be even worse than Language Arts. I called her teacher and we spoke about the situation. She reassuringly told me that they teach division both ways and whichever method the student feels comfortable with is the method she can use on the tests. That is reassuring to me as a parent and as an educator.
This week, I am reviewing Olivia’s homework nightly and I am noticing that the traditional way of long division is being taught now. She seems to be doing ok–needing a little tutoring but not much. She mostly makes common mistakes like losing track of the place of the dividend when it is three numbers, or forgetting to carry up the remainder. At least I am able to help re-direct her and re-focus her to the correct answer now that they are learning the old way to do division. Now, let’s see what happens as we get further into fractions……..

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