The Changing Way That Math Is Taught To Children
from the carry-the-1 dept
NPR has a fascinating story about how the methods for teaching basic mathematics have been changing in schools. For example, they show the following comparison for teaching multiplication:
The Way We Used To Multiply
The old way to multiply required a student to add the products of 36 x 4 and 36 x 2. The trick is to add that 0 at the end of the second product.
How Kids Learn To Multiply Now
These days, students add four products to get the answer.
This fascinates me because I was definitely taught that first method as a kid, but what really gets me is that I ended up teaching myself the second method, because it seemed like a fun trick that made it easier to multiply larger numbers in my head (shocking news: I was a bit of a nerd). But once I had taught myself the latter method, I could never figure out why that wasn’t more common. Apparently, I was just ahead of my time.
The other interesting thing that hit me was the article’s explanation for why things have shifted:
“That’s largely to reflect the different needs of society,” he says. “No one ever in their real life anymore needs to — and in most cases never does — do the calculations themselves.”
Computers do arithmetic for us, Devlin says, but making computers do the things we want them to do requires algebraic thinking. For instance, take a computer spreadsheet. The computer does all the calculations for you automatically. But you have to write the macros that tell it what calculations to do — and that is algebraic thinking.
“You cannot become good at algebra without a mastery of arithmetic,” Devlin says, “but arithmetic itself is no longer the ultimate goal.” Thus the emphasis in teaching mathematics today is on getting people to be sophisticated, algebraic thinkers.
So for all the times kids claim that they shouldn’t need to learn mathematics because they’ll never need aspects of it in real life, it’s nice to see that the education system is actually adapting to make the process of how you think about math much more practical in today’s world.