If you have a kid in school, you’ve probably noticed that their maths homework looks different than yours did back in the day. You may have moaned about it — “What’s with all the crazy steps? These equations took me seconds to answer in Mrs. Winkleman’s fourth-grade class!” Hey, I’m not here to debate the value of the current instruction approach. But I can help you come to terms with the change.
In response to Nick Douglas’ piece “Do Maths in Your Head With These Mental Maths Tricks,” some readers noted that new teaching methods help kids make such connections intuitively by using number sense. If you’re like me, a person who learned maths mostly through rote memorisation, you might be a little confused about what that means. In that case, a good place to start is at the beginning. Commenter noodlesintheface had a smart suggestion for parents: Go through the Khan Academy’s arithmetic program, starting with the pre-K or kindergarten courses.
Noodlesintheface, who has no affiliation with Khan Academy, did just that, and tells us through email that the free online curriculum was “surprisingly fun and engaging” and “helped ingrain a lot of the mathematical concepts that I couldn’t fully explain in K-12 but could still apply the rules and get the right answer.”
For example, the parent writes that the curriculum “focuses on place value in a way that I didn’t learn back in the ‘80s, such as ‘What number is the same as 1 ten + 18 ones?’” (Yep, it’s 28.) “Ten frames” — a visual showing 10 as a bundle of ten ones — was also a new concept for noodlesintheface, along with visualising addition and subtraction along a number line.
A sample question:
Noodlesintheface went through the entire K-12 maths curriculum, but just doing the pre-K or kindergarten course will give you a general grasp of the philosophy behind new learning concepts about mathematics. I tried it and my first thought was, “Huh, this does make a lot of sense.”
Noodlesintheface tells us there’s been an unexpected benefit of letting their daughter watch the whole process: “I can model good behaviour of overcoming maths difficulties with perseverance.” While tackling the maths problems, you might even find yourself eager to learn more.