Poems, riddles, and superheroes, oh my! Are we talking about math? May is here and I have several books to keep that child or student of yours engaged these last few weeks of school and into the summer.
The Problem with “Story Problems”
You remember those “story problems” we had to do as kids, don’t you? Most people I’ve talked to have not-so-fond memories of those from their textbooks. And we were especially thankful there were only 1 or 2 at the end of the lesson. Some of our teachers would even skip them altogether. Great, right? But as adults, how many of you find that most of life’s “real world math” is never presented in a one-step problem? And all the math problems I encountered today didn’t use the exact same strategy or algorithm that I just learned this morning. Our kids today deserve, in fact NEED, to embrace real-life problem solving, not shudder at the thought. Need proof? Compare Round Rock Independent School District’s (RRISD’s) expectations for Mathematical Problem Solving in the following grades. Compare/contrast the expectations for kindergarten, 2nd and 5th grades. http://www.roundrockisd.org/index.aspx?page=1008
|KINDERGARTEN||2ND GRADE||5TH GRADE|
|K.13A Identify mathematics in everyday situations.||2.12A Identify the mathematics in everyday situations.||5.14A Identify the mathematics in everyday situations.|
|K.13B Solve problems with guidance that incorporates the processes of understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness.||2.12B Solve problems with guidance that incorporates the processes of understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness.||5.14B Solve problems that incorporate understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness.|
|K.13C Select or develop an appropriate problem-solving strategy including drawing a picture, looking for a pattern, that incorporates the processes of understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness.||2.12C Select or develop an appropriate problem-solving plan or strategy including drawing a picture, looking for a pattern, systematic guessing and checking, or acting it out in order to solve a problem.||5.14C Select or develop an appropriate problem-solving plan or strategy, including drawing a picture, looking for a pattern, systematic guessing and checking, acting it out, making a table, working a simpler problem, or working backwards to solve a problem.|
|K.13D Use tools such as real objects manipulatives, and technology to solve problems.||2.12D Use tools such as real objects, manipulatives, and technology to solve problems.||5.14D Use tools such as real objects, manipulatives, and technology to solve problems.|
|K.14A Communicate mathematical ideas using objects, words, pictures, numbers and technology.||2.13A Explain and record observations using objects, words, pictures, numbers, and technology.||5.15A Explain and record observations using objects, words, pictures, numbers, and technology.|
|K.14B Relate everyday language to mathematical language and symbols.||2.13B Relate informal language to mathematical language and symbols.||5.15B Relate informal language to mathematical language and symbols.|
|K.15 Justify his or her thinking using objects, words, pictures, numbers, and technology.||2.14 Justify his or her thinking using objects, words, pictures, numbers, and technology.||5.16B Justify why an answer is reasonable and explain the solution process.|
|5.16A Make generalizations from patterns or sets of examples and nonexamples.|
I’ve highlighted the few differences. Obviously the difficulty of problems increases each year, but the bottom line is the same: Your child needs to know how to confidently UNDERSTAND a problem, make a PLAN, and SOLVE it using an appropriate strategy that includes checking for reasonableness.
Kindergartners love to count on their fingers, or count by ones to solve a problem. It’s necessary, and even cute, because they haven’t learned many other strategies yet. But when your 5th grader, who HAS learned a variety of strategies, counts on her fingers (under the desk to remain unseen, of course), it’s more worrisome than cute. But the reality is this is actually quite common when we teach strategies, but don’t give kids PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE in school and at home to get comfortable with these other ways of thinking. They’re just more comfortable with their trusty, tried-and-true fingers.
Fingers aren’t the only culprit, lest you thought you were off the hook. I’ve also seen kids grab onto other strategies like tally marks, for example. “Sue has 16 cupcakes. John has 10. How many cupcakes do they have altogether?” So a student draws out 26 tally marks and tries to count each one, maybe accidentally double-counting a tally, maybe not. But when they do this with the numbers 62 and 16, your mouth drops as a teacher. “Why didn’t he draw base ten blocks at least, or use a number sentence?” we think to ourselves, feeling a sense of defeat.
Once kids learn a strategy that makes sense (counting on fingers, or maybe a step beyond that like tally marks) they try to apply THAT SAME strategy to fit any and every problem after that. And this simply won’t work. They must have a tool belt full of a variety of strategies, understand which kind of problem calls for which types of possible strategies, and then have the confidence to actually choose and use a reasonable one. If this all sounds a little overwhelming to you, don’t worry. Math is all around your child in everyday situations. As a parent, you can use these teachable moments with just a little help from a great author and mathematician.
Child’s Natural Curiosity + Greg Tang =MATHEMAGIC
I’ve broken down two of his books for you, so you can decide which book is best for your child. This is also a great gift idea for your child’s teacher because we are always looking for engaging ways to bring the real world of math into our classrooms.
Next up… Zero the Hero.
Unlike most numbers, Zero believed himself to be a hero. He just needed a chance to prove it. But Zero’s belief in himself didn’t count for much when it came to fitting in.
Find out how this mathematical Rudolph-like story can hook your child and enhance his or her learning in my next post.