#Weekendcoffeeshare: math edition

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If we were having coffee, I’d likely keep trying to talk about long division, and you’d probably spend the entire conversation trying to change the subject.

After three weeks of this, I’m starting to suspect that I may not be very good at this whole “having coffee with people” thing, honestly.

But anyway: long division.  I realized something this week.  I have never taught long division before.  I’ve always had at least sixth graders, and by that time most of them have it down and the mathematics are complicated enough that I’m frequently willing to hand a calculator to the kids who are struggling anyway, at least after being shown sufficient effort.  These kids, though?  Some of them appear to have had it last year, others don’t.  Maybe a third of my kids are comfortable with it, and all of those are concentrated into one class.  My entire afternoon group is basically clueless.

One girl in particular makes me want to go find her fourth grade teacher and slap the shit out of her.  She appears to be the only one who has been in this particular teacher’s class, but I’m told the teacher “didn’t like” the standard algorithm so she taught the kids a different way.  Without getting too deep into details, the “different way” works all right when you’re doing something like 55 divided by 6, which will give you a small answer in a couple of steps and a small remainder.  It becomes insanely complicated when the problem is a more fifth-grade-ish 8108/9, and will become flatly impossible to use once two-digit divisors or decimals enter the picture, which they’re going to do soon.

Professional malpractice, is what I’m saying here.  You don’t teach kids a method of doing something that is going to completely break in the very next year of school.  You particularly don’t do it to this specific girl, who appears, to put it mildly, to not have been born with the usual allotment of confidence in math skills that one might expect, and was in tears when she didn’t understand my first example.  Typically I expect at least three examples before I’ll allow don’t-get-it crying to happen.

Got my work cut out for me here, is what I’m saying, and I’m seriously in need of some research time this weekend for better teaching strategies.  Lucky for me, it’s a three-day weekend.

Thank a union member, by the way.

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