Do you know math well enough to teach the third grade? Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, posed this question to about 30 education reporters, myself included, at a recent workshop in New York.
38 / 4 = 9.5, Ball said. Write four distinctly different word problems that correspond to this division expression, representing different interpretations of the meaning of division, and with different possible numerical answers, depending on the context.
So how do you ask a kid to solve 38 / 4 and get a different answer?
This was a word problem I came up with: Johnny helps his mom sort the family’s laundry. There are 38 pieces of laundry and they are making four piles. How many items will be left if all the piles have an equal number of clothes? (The answer is 2 — I asked for the remainder.)
Ball and University of Georgia professor Jeremy Kilpatrick used the example as a springboard for a discussion about conflict over how to teach math and what it takes to teach it successfully. The Evansville Courier & Press had a compelling story on the issue last month, focusing on moms who aren’t happy with “new math” curriculums and who are giving their children a second math lesson at home in the evenings.
I’d like to know your thoughts. Is this a conflict at your school? In general, what do you think of changing methods of teaching? And if you’re a teacher, how do you learn to teach something an entirely different way than you learned it in the first place?