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What's a Better Way to Teach Math?

Updated on June 29, 2015

The better alternative is to infuse math with meaning from the beginning. So, for example, instead of seven times eight is 56, has memorized just a string of letters and phonemes, sometimes it is 56. You think, “Oh, okay, seven times eight, well that’s almost seven times 10 you know, which would be 70, and then I takeaway two 7s so it’s, you know, about 14 or 15 less, or exactly 14, so it’s something like 55, 56.” So that, every time you do something like that, that kind of calculation, you get a feeling for the number system and instead of just memorizing a sequence of arbitrary symbols, and so that kind of feeling actually can start well before even third grade when multiplication is learned.

You start to learn, okay, is this number bigger than that? Is that height over there bigger than this? Is this room bigger than that room? Twice as big? Three times as big? Four times as big? How big is that couch? That kind of meaning is something that we don't normally teach at all, but we could. So the other day my daughter, Wells, who’s two years ago when she was four, she said, “Daddy, how big is the couch over there? 60 feet?” And you know, we don’t live in a big house, but even if we did, I'm sure the couch wouldn’t be 60 feet. So I realized that she didn't have any idea of what a foot was or what 60 meant, so I thought, okay, let's do it in some way that has meaning for her. So I said, “Okay, Elsa, here, come lie down on my arms.” And it was easier then, a couple of years ago, so she laid down on my arms and I said, “We’re going to use you, Elsa, as the measuring rod,” and so we got her on my arms, and then we went to the couch, and I laid off Elsa's, “Okay, one Elsa, two Elsa’s.” Two is a number she could really understand well, and she could feel, okay, the couch is twice as long as me, and so that actually gave a meaning to the length in a way that the arbitrary for her units of feet didn’t. You know that she got older she has more and more ideas of what a feet and what a 60 mean, but it always has to have meaning connected to it, and that’s what we don’t do.


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