Some Problems are Hard to Solve

I am a math person.   I am not sure how many actual mathematicians would identify me as math person because my “expertise” in math does not extend much beyond basic algebra.  Plus, my 25 year old “A” in Calculus doesn’t change the fact that I turned into a lawyer.  Still, I say I am a math person because I am not “not a math person.”

In addition, it troubles me to hear people say they are not math people.  Like this is an acceptable thing to be.  Like when otherwise intelligent people say they are not feminists.  I am so confused.  I want to say, “That just doesn’t add up!”

Having spent a little time helping my kids with their math homework, I have some insight into how “not math people” are made.

For example, this week my first grader encountered this problem:

IMG_4490

She asked me for help and we were both confused.  The problem seemed to make no sense.  When I looked at the shapes in the “addition sentence,” the shape I wanted to draw was a giant blank.

The problem was, this problem was asking us to address too many problems at once.  Little kids are trying to grasp the concept of quantity   (**** + ** = ******) at the same time they are trying to grasp the idea that the number 4 can “stand for” the quantity ****, at the same time they are trying to grasp the concept that “+” means “add” and “-” means subtract.   Substituting random shapes into the “addition sentence,” confounds these concepts.  It is especially confusing when one of the “shapes” is a giant “plus sign.”

In the end, a six year old solves this problem by following a pattern.  She knows:IMG_4497IMG_4498

so

 

She “plugged in” the trapezoid for the “2” and got the answer “right.”

I can’t say she understood the concept in any meaningful way.  But then again, as a trapezoid who has always felt one giant plus sign short of a parallelogram, who am I to criticize?

 

About MotherJam

Trying to be insightful. But mostly just avoiding housework and ignoring my children.
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4 Responses to Some Problems are Hard to Solve

  1. Senor Delgado says:

    The shape thing still doesn’t add up to me. Somehow easier to convert to A B and C and solve. Also I swear they never told me that the SAT drawings were not to scale, that detail cost me countless points and maybe because of that I hate math problems with pictures.

    • MotherJam says:

      The shape thing makes no sense because the authors of the problems expect the kids to treat shapes like random symbols when shapes have a physical dimension. Intuitively you want the shapes you are “adding” to add up to some compound shape. Like two squares make a rectangle or something.

  2. Diane says:

    I have a PhD and don’t understand the problem .

  3. Lorraine says:

    This has to be the new teaching method called Common Core State Standards Initiative
    (core standards.org) this website breaks down the changes and individual standards for math and language arts for each grade. My take is “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” . We have many educated people that learned everything the OLD WAY! So how bad can that be ????parents are as confused as the children are. Now that’s progress?????

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