Question about method for working math problems

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Question about method for working math problems

Postby Meghan » Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:04 pm

I guess I'm just curious here- not so much about a specific curriculum as a question about a method. Apologies to mods if in wrong topic.

My son is being taught spiraling math in ps. As part of that, they teach the kids a method of working addition that makes little logical sense. It involves a zillion extra steps, and includes such wonderful falsities as "20 minus a negative two equals 18".

For now, ds does great so he really isn't the issue, although we are following the math thing very closely.

My dd, 6, is the one we are struggling with. Currently in ps, as stated in another thread.

For now, I have attempted to teach both of my children column adding as well as what they are already learning, although they act like I suggested we eat our shoes when I show it to them.

Wondering if everyone here is also doing as the ps are i.e. spiraling math with the 'new new new' math methods, or are you sticking with something tried and true? Just thinking for the longterm if dd is taught column adding, will the teachers in ps (if/when she goes back) mark all her work wrong because she's used column instead of the tedious and bizarre spiderweb the kids in ps are learning?

I am still in the planning and (probably over-) analyzing stage here, so once again, tia for any info :)

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Postby Lindina » Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:04 pm

Meghan, I haven't the faintest idea what "spiraling math" is, although if you had asked me, I would have guessed it meant something like Saxon math, Horizons, or CLE math, where you do a little new lesson and then do a few review problems of several previous skills each day.

OTOH, the "unit apprioach" to math I was taught in school (MANY moons ago!) was really spiraled too - only spiraled year to year, rather than day to day like Saxon or the others I named. In this one, you do adding for weeks, then subtraction for weeks, then multiplication for weeks, division, fractions, decimals, maybe time/money/measurement ... Then next year you do it all over again, but with bigger numbers. And again the next year, and the next, until you get to algebra.

What is the name on your children's math books? If they don't use a math book, this is likely one of those "fuzzymath" programs... :(

I think you owe it to your kids to explain how to properly work a math problem, even if it's different than how they're taught in school, and make sure they understand the process - not of just working some process, but the process of how addition works, and subtraction, etc. and why it comes out the way that it does.
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Postby dkocur » Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:54 pm

Hi Meghan. I don't think your problem is so much with spiraling, which is a method of teaching. It sounds like your problem is with the curriculum itself (which probably is organized for teaching using the spiraling method). I'm real curious, though. If they don't use columns to add multiple digit numbers what are they using :?:

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Postby Theodore » Sun Sep 26, 2010 8:31 am

I looked up spiraling math - had never heard of it before - and it appears it's just a difference in teaching method. Essentially, rather than making sure each concept is understood before moving onto the next, you're grapeshot with a bunch of different things, and if you don't understand a few of them, the teacher doesn't really care too much. Saxon isn't quite the same thing, a big emphasis is given on each concept as you go by, then that concept is reinforced over and over by continued problems of that sort in subsequent math sets. I used Saxon myself for late elementary math through algebra II and liked it (though I found it a bit dry for advanced math and pre-calc, which require more creative thinking and less repetition).

Sounds like you're also having problems with the specific methods for solving problems, however, in addition to spiraling math in general? Personally, I do often find it easier to add 20 and subtract 2 than to add 18, maybe they're just wording it badly.

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Postby David Brown » Tue Jan 18, 2011 7:50 pm

Teaching your son this 'spiraling; method is important if he's learning that at school. I think that the method is not nearly as important than actually understanding the concept (ie. Why and how does this method work?), and in the real world whichever method you know is probably equally effective.
I just think it's important so that when he does go back to ps he understands what they're all talking about with the 'spiraling' method. Even if the teacher marks the column method correct, he'll probably feel pretty left out if he doesn't understand what everyone else is doing.

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Postby Dr. Moti Levi » Sat May 21, 2011 1:59 am


As others said, it seems there are two issues going on. Personally, I don't like the "spiraling method". Years of teaching math and quantitative topics at all levels (kids to college) and being a mathematician taught me its completely wrong to allow partial understanding stay. It enforces the partial understanding, forces the student to make, mostly false/wrong, generalization and gap filling assumptions, and prevents understanding of ideas built on those.

As per the curriculum - I don't know what they are using but if they say "20 minus negative two equals 18" - that's damaging, not just wrong. In general, they don't teach integers correctly (hence, I wrote a book specifically on Integers). The reason they use those complicated methods of addition/subtraction is to avoid teaching the place value method, which they don't actually teach (and indeed, I wrote a book on that as well).

Usually, students learn to do well with those systems (you can teach any system and if students learn to follow its rules, it would work) but later have problems because those "systems" don't match latter needs and are not built around the true structure of numbers and concepts.
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Postby » Mon May 30, 2011 11:26 am

First I need to say that 20 minus a negative two equals 18 since we know that 20 minus a TWO equals 18.
I agree with learning addition using columns but your children should learn addition by adding the column from left to right. Of course they should master counting by 10's, 100's, 1000's first. I get children, all the time, adding three 4-digit numbers in their head easily. You MUST get your children to think mathematically at an early age. DO NOT depend on the average math teacher to teach your children to think!!!!!!!!!

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