Oh Man! New Math

Clare Briggs

Clare Briggs

Clare Briggs is a famous cartoonist who lived from 1875 to 1930. Poems by Wilbur Nesbitt.

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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    When my daughter got stuck, she always came to me with math questions rather than my wife. Because I could read through the stuff and deal with it the way they were teaching math that year, I guess. She had to learn to put up with my immediate responses, though. “Oh, cool! Set theory!” and “Oh, cool! Combinatorial search!”Report

    • Avatar JS in reply to Michael Cain
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      says:

      I know my brother has struggled with the way they’re teaching math now with his kids, simply because he doesn’t know the right words to jog their memory.

      So he tends to call my wife, who will spout out rather odd phrases (like for fractions, it was “remember the butterfly” maybe?) that would jog the kid’s memory towards the method he was using.

      Most years, I doubt it’d be such a struggle. Between a lot of remote classes and the child in question being just old enough to start trying to hide homework and blow off homework, well…

      Mind you, once he remembered the name, he was quickly able to work through all sorts of fraction word problems with nary an issue. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with how he’s being taught math, there’s just a disconnect between how my brother (and I) learned it that makes “Hey, remember what you’re supposed to be doing here” a lot harder when helping.

      From watching him do math, he’s clearly learning in a better way than we did. It makes it no less frustrating when trying to figure out what he’s supposed to be doing.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Drill and kill.

    Odd to see it in its infancy.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      At least per the History of Rome podcast, rote drill seems to be the default pedagogical technique in the ‘western’ tradition for a couple thousand years.

      (Granted, arithmetic as we know it today was introduced to Western Europe much later, around the time the Europeans started heading even further west)Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Not infancy. All of it, from the time we start with simple addition and subtraction, to multiplication, to long division, is because centuries of experience have taught us that given enough drill, these are the ways that give you the best chance to get an accurate answer by hand. Square roots. Trig identities so you can still get an answer when the only look-up table you have is sine. Ways to build portions of that table by hand, if necessary. Doing integrals manually. Inverting a 10×10 matrix. A hundred-and-one tricks for solving differential equations.

      How far back does it go? The current algorithm for long division is credited to Henry Briggs, published around 1600. Before that, whatever was done was slower, clumsier, and more subject to error. And because all of those memorized tricks sometimes aren’t enough, numerical methods amenable to using all those rote-ingrained methods got created. Say, Newton-Raphson, first published in 1690. (And in a side note, developed and published first by Raphson, in a more usable form, but famous people get credit, even in math.)

      Contemporary math’s big challenge: why do we teach all the old algorithms and the rote memorization and soul-crushing drill that goes with that when you can just punch it in and your phone will give you the answer? What should we teach instead?Report

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