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  • Charis Chio

New Math vs Old Math. What is it and why is it causing anxiety amongst parents?

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Parents who grew up in the '80s and '90s, do you sometimes get confused by unfamiliar ways of doing your child’s math homework?

The parent who aced math in school, or even those who did not particularly fancy the subject now find themselves on common ground, both equally stumped by math terms they have never heard or used when they were in school.

The approach to teaching math has transformed in recent years, to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of what they are doing versus simply memorizing procedures.

The new approach or rather ‘new math’ aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Provide students with the future-ready skills they need to be successful either in the workforce or in post-secondary education.

  • Boost math test scores

  • Apply greater emphasis on mental math as a practical skill

"The goal is helping children move away from 'learning recipes' and more toward understanding how numbers and patterns work," says Dr. Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist with 35 years of teaching experience in New York City.

However, the debate remains rife. It is natural for most parents to feel overwhelmed and challenged by what they themselves are not familiar.

“People worry that if we are focused on these different strategies, children aren’t going to be good at doing computations,” Felton-Koestler said. “That doesn’t turn out to be true. They end up being just as good – and much better at higher-order type tasks.”

“For years we learnt and used the word ‘carry over’ when adding or subtracting larger numbers. My daughter does not even recognize that term in Grade 2. I discovered they use ‘regrouping’ for the same action as ‘carry over’. Somehow ‘carry over’ still seems more straightforward and friendlier” expresses Mira Sobralske, parent of an 8-year-old.

While we don’t blame Mira for being partial towards the friendlier word and as straightforward as it may sound, explaining why the action is called ‘regrouping’ surprisingly has more benefits. When children learn to ‘regroup’ it not only explains what to do (carry over) but rather why we do it (regroup from thousands, hundreds or tens).

The same can be said for some other ‘new math’ terms like arrays, bar models, number lines, square grids etc.

Some parents of older children are finally seeing the long-term benefits of all that early focus on how to think about math.

Despite having an MBA, Michelle Majdoch, 46, of Coral Springs, Florida, said she was initially confused by her children’s math homework with the story problems and drawing to show their work.

But now that her children are in fourth, fifth, 10th and 12th grades, she is convinced of the positive impact. Being taught three ways to do a problem in the early grades made each of her children discover the methods that made the most sense to them. These days, her high school daughters are doing well in more advanced math like Algebra and pre-calculus.

By offering students a variety of techniques for reaching their final result, they are trained to use an entire toolbox of different strategies that they can rely on.

Methods like the Singapore Math and Common Core are gaining strong popularity for their approach and learning style.

Parents are becoming more and more open to effective learning tools online and other unconventional teaching methods due to their proven impact on instilling strong and logic driven math skills amongst children who practice them.

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