Stepping into the forest of my mind

Stepping into the forest of my mind
Just as every journey begins with a first step, every story begins with the first word.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Need for a Fourth Grade Math Tutor

From competence to incompetence.  The difference a substitute day can make.
Like I said before, I always try to demonstrate to students on the board how to do the mathematical steps, but when the steps are changed—and no one tells me—then I’m the one who needs the help.  I don’t know.  I could do long division in the old days, but now?  With the “Everyday Math” methods, I need someone to demonstrate to ME how to divide like a fourth grader. 
I wrote on the board 879 divided by 37 in the standard division bar method and proceeded to explain to the class how 37 can’t go into 8, but it can go into 87. 
“Now,” I said, “how many times can…”
A young lady started waving both hands in the air.  I thought she had a medical emergency.  It ended up that I was the emergency.
“That’s not how Mrs. Jones does it.”  She told me.
“Okay,” I told Miss Smarty Pants, offering her the black marker [no chalkboards anymore, remember?].  “Then show me how Mrs. Jones does long division.”             
My eyes started to dry out as I tried to decipher the drawings on the board.  Hieroglyphics were easier to understand.  
“What’s this right hand line down the side of the division problem?”  I asked Miss Pants.
“That’s so you can divide into the whole number,” she told me.
“But I thought that’s what we were doing with the standard, curved division symbol.”
She just rolled her eyes and began writing round numbers down the outside of the right hand line.
“Um,” I tried to regain the upper hand in the class as snickers rang out when the students watched my brow become one big furrow.
“Why are you estimating?”  I asked.  “Don’t we want the correct answer?”
“Estimating’s easier,” Miss Pants assured me as she rewrote the problem as 40 into 800 and then estimated the answer as 20.
 “Easier for whom?”  I desperately needed a few Tylenol.  I watched as she next took 40 into 80 and then added up figures outside another vertical line.  The board was covered in mathematical computation.
I am a firm believer that the more steps there are in a problem, the more chance for error.  But I certainly couldn't tell Miss Pants that.  The substitute teacher had now become the student.