07 January 2011

Math Homework

You know, I like math. I was always good at it, well except for the fiasco of 8th grade algebra, which I failed because I didn't want to be there, because it was an accelerated class, and I don't know, I was rebelling against something. I took algebra again in 9th grade, when you were "supposed" to take it, and got an A+ and a 98 on the Regents. With the same teacher. It hadn't been him, it wasn't the material, it was me acting out stupidly. I digress. Except for that, I was good at arithmetic and algebra and geometry and trigonometry. I even tutored it in high school.

The 2nd grader's math homework is killing me.



A couple of months ago, there was the idiotic homework assignment of "using blue and yellow strips (and other nonstandard tools which can measure length, like pencils and linking cubes) to find approximate measures of length of objects in school and at home. The blue strips are twice as long as the yellow strips, so this gives students a natural opportunity to consider halves of units and to explore the relationships among the measurements with blues and yellows."

Sounds reasonable, right? Well, the homework assignment was to find a bunch of things in the house which measured exactly, say, 5 blue strips. As it happened, a blue strip was actually six inches long, so finding something that measured 5 blue strips meant finding something in the house that was 30" long (or wide or high). Do you know how hard that is? It's one thing to measure objects and record their lengths, but to locate something that's a predetermined length means that Mom is running around the house with a tape measure in advance of the girl so that Mom can suggest things to measure, because if Mom doesn't pre-select things for the girl, homework is going to take eleventeen hours. Royal pain in the maternal ass. Furthermore, it's a dumb exercise - it's not teaching anything at all. If you were to measure something with blue strips and then with yellow strips and compare your results, you might learn something about 2 times x = 2x.

I grumbled and tweeted and drank my wine, and then I put my homework antipathy aside. Until the other night, when a fresh new hell came home from school: Beat the Calculator.

The instructions that were sent home called for two players, one to add four single digits with a calculator, and one to add the same digits in their head. But the whole thing dissolved into tears and recriminations because 1) the game was played differently at school ("One player is the Caller, a second player is the Calculator, and the third is the Brain") and 2) there was no way that the child was ever going to win. Calculator or brain, I'm always going to be faster (well, maybe not a few years from now, but we're talking now now). So the kid ended up in tears because we weren't playing by the rules she'd learned in school and because I kept beating her. What kind of learning experience is that? Bad, bad, bad.

Frankly, I couldn't figure out the point of the exercise anyway, so I poked around on the web until I found a (cached) page from the Terc Investigations site explaining the use of calculators, including this paragraph:

In Grade 2 there is an activity called Beat the Calculator (see Coins, Coupons, and Combinations, page 39) which is a built-into-the-curriculum kind of example. Students have been working on solving number strings -- adding together several single digit numbers such as 7 + 4 + 3 + 4 + 5. Many students do this by adding together the numbers that equal ten (7+3), and/or doubles facts that they just know (4+4), and then adding those sums together along with any other leftover numbers (5). After they have worked on this a while, Beat the Calculator is introduced. One partner adds a number string mentally while the other tries to add the numbers in order on the calculator. What comes out of this, in the classroom, is that the child working mentally is almost always faster than the child with the calculator.


So the point is? Brains are better than calculators? Well, really they aren't. You can do a damned sight more calculating on a calculator. But you need to know the basics, and to know that for small stuff you don't need a calculator. But that's not what this dumb exercise was teaching. Oy.

Yes, I sent in a note to the teacher: "This caused unnecessary tears and no learning was accomplished, nor reinforced". To her credit, she called to apologize and told us to put aside tear-inducing homework in the future. But still. Oy.

21 comments:

FreshHell said...

Sigh. I want to say, "Don't get me started." Because what I really think about most homework - tear-inducing and non- cannot fit into this comment box.

I haven't seen these particular examples but Red had a similar hair-pullingly awful assignment early in the year that involved finding her week's sight words in magazines and cutting and pasting them, etc. First, we don't subscribe to many magazines and there was no time to find any suitable ones. Second, did you know that the word "down" cannot be found in 10 years worth of National Geographics? Do you know HOW LONG that took to come to that realization? And how many glasses of wine I needed after that. I wrote a very similar note to the teacher. RIDICULOUS.

I am very bad at math and a calulator would beat me every single time because it takes me a very long time to add up that string you mentioned. Once I get to 17, I have to think about what's 5 more. Seriously.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Everyday Math? We get a lot of assignments like this, especially early in the year, and they drive us all up a fricking tree.

Anna said...

i am so glad to read this and know i am not alone in having a hard time w my kid's 2nd grade homework.

i long for the days of my childhood and to utter the words of my parents "i already went to second grade. do your own homework."

maybe things will look up when they're in 3rd grade?

Life in Eden said...

Our math curriculum is hated (especially by me) and is slated to change in our district. I'm just worried what it will change TO and how long it will take.

I hate homework, and will only hate it more as years go on. Perhaps I will start writing notes to the teacher ... hmmm.

Anjali said...

That is quite possibly the worst homework I've ever heard of.

Glad you sent the note to the teacher. She probably feels the same way.

Julia said...

You ladies are WAY more patient than I am.

I would have looked at the blue strips, gotten a pair of scissors, and started snipping stuff up.

For sight words I'd head straight for Google, type in "kids magazine DOWN" and print out the stupid article.

We do Singapore Math around here. You'd like it. It's straightforward and solid and there are NO stupid activities. Just unusual names that you grow kind of fond of. Minghua is one of my favorites.

Heathen Family said...

Two words: home school.

YourFireAnt said...

MY brain is better than my calculator. Because I'm always pushing the buttons wrong. Always. Even on the large-print one.

;-(

Mary G said...

About a quarter century ago, when my kids were in grade two, the same sort of nonsense came home. I went to the teacher and asked why the kid was not doing tables. Answer: we don't do that.
Right.
so my kids learned their tables while doing dishes after supper every night (drying and reciting) and we did not do the math homework that they got. And I told the teacher and the principal why. The kids loved being able to ignore the assignments and can rapid calculate just fine.
Your kid's teacher is probably a math moron through having grown up during this time. Poor thing.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My kids' school has a brand new math curriculum this year and I LOVE it. I am horrific at math; I never could grasp the underlying concepts; and guess what? I am learning it now through my kids' homework.

Also, they love it. My 1st grader is always listening in the 3rd grader's math homework & asking if she can throw aside her writing homework in order to 'help' him with math....

I'll figure out what it's called and let you know. You can suggest the school switch to it. Srsly.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Some of that stuff is just crazy. You did the right thing.

And nothing replaces memorizing the times tables. Nothing.

mayberry said...

We are stuck on multiplication right now and it's also driving me crazy. She wails that at school they have a cheat sheet. But knowing your times tables is a basic life skill, kid, so start memorizing.

Heide said...

Zeke's school uses Singapore Math, too. Maybe you can persuade your district to switch.

slouchy said...

As you know, we've been struggling with this very thing in our district. My husband has led a committee that's worked hard and long (against lots of pressure to maintain the status quo) to change the curriculum (Investigations). It's worked, and we are currently in the process of piloting new (better!) curricula. Would that Singapore Math were among them (it's the best, IMO, by far), but too many new teachers do not know enough math to be able to teach it. Which is sad, really.

Fight the good fight, Maggie!

The Library Lady said...

SC struggled with math--including the times tabkes-- regained her feet in the last 2 years and is now struggling with my old enemy, geometry. While JR keeps sailing through it all and last year found the same 5th grade math teacher that daunted SC to be really effective. They're all so different.

I have always made it a policy when the math homework (and it was always the MATH homework) leaves me and the child in tears, it's time to write a note on the planner/homework sheet or e-mail the teacher.

Of course, when it's a matter of the Man trying to work with one of the girls and the child is in tears, it's time for me to take over. And then to usually write that note...

ifbyyes said...

Am reminded of the time that I came home with a complex math problem in grade 6. My mother and I puzzled over it for ages, and mum eventually ended up having to teach me basic algebra in order to solve it, since it involved finding an unknown quantity. Algebra seemed like the only way to solve it, short of just guessing randomly.

When my teacher asked me how I had found the answer I stood up and explained how I had solved it, where the number of such and such equalled x. The dumbfounded teacher then said "Oh... I just expected you to guess and check until you found the right answer."

Kyla said...

Ugh, sounds torturous!

We haven't run into this particular situation, but have had a few 3rd grade math problems come home with BubTar that he nor I nor Josh could figure out because of the wording used. 1 3rd grader and 2 college educated adults should be able to understand a properly written 3rd grade math problem! We made BubTar skip it and finish the rest, but the first time he skipped a problem I swear he nearly had a panic attack. "I can't NOT DO A PROBLEM! I CAN'T go on until this one it done!" There was much crying in the 'Tar house that night and he left us a note at the top of the stairs that said, "Don't talk to me. I am sad and/or mad. -BubTar"

Angela said...

My daughter was not blessed with the math gene, so I see many tear-filled non-sensical math exercises in her future. Maybe I can stick her brother with the job of explaining the Singapore system to her.

But your comment on the Regents was a total flashback! Living in New England, where no one has ever heard of NY Regents exams, I feel like a total outsider. Now I can say "I got a 100 in chemistry, 99 in physics, 98 in math, and 97 in biology for my Regents" and YOU would understand :). BTW, did you know that there are exactly 25 A, B, C and D answers on each Regents exam? That's how I knew I got a 100 in Chemistry, I actually counted up the answers. Apparently I failed to do so in Physics or Biology :P.

The Library Lady said...

The only reason I passed the Geometry Regents is I didn't have to take it. I went to Bronx Science and that year they started teaching 1 quarter of computer programming (really),omitted line plane geometry and got us excused from the exam. Thank God.........

leanne said...

Right now I'm picturing running around measuring things that are exactly 30 inches. Bless you for trying. And even better that you told the teacher about the problems with both assignments. But still how much better would it have been if the teacher had realized the potential for problems and found other assignments...

I think my son has been doing some version of the measuring task at school... using cubes to measure how long things are. So far the only homework he's had in 1st grade is reading. Reading I can manage.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

Good for you for sending in that note. And kudos to the teacher for taking criticism in stride. I would have been too paranoid about teacher's retaliation against my kids (from childhood traumatic experience...) to say anything. Instead I do this: nothing. There have been quite a few stupid homework assignment I simply told my kids that we're not going to do it. For example, the "counting money with your parent" homework. He's good with it already. Moving on!