Stick to math that works

Saturday, October 25, 2003

By Raj Marasini

I agree with Avelina (Belen) Lichtenegger's reaction regarding the newer new math at Jackson schools. I read with great interest Callie Clark's Oct. 17 article that outlines an alternative way of multiplying.

It confuses me why a school system would spend a lot of money to implement a program that seems experimental. At first glance, I would say Jackson schools should have looked into this program closer before setting aside a hefty budget.

This lengthy and confusing method of multiplying whole numbers is just one part of the program that evidently the children should not spend time trying to learn. In fact, one of the students interviewed feels that this method is confusing. Not only this, the practice of jumping from one subject to another unrelated subject and then going back does not guarantee mastery of what the students have to learn.

The concept of place value and distributive property can be explained and mastered with shorter and clearer methods.

As to the "mental" math issue, we are going to end up with students who are not able to do simple computations without calculators. Mental math is not going to be there if one has to rely on the calculator for even the simplest computations.

I was educated overseas. Like several leading or even Third World countries, there is no powerful and influential organization like the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I was told all math teaching in this country is heavily influenced by the standards set forth by the NCTM. It is this organization which recommends that calculators be used as early as kindergarten.

According to Oct. 17 article, instead of learning just one way to add, subtract, divide and multiply, students learn several methods in the hopes of increasing comprehension. Believe me. Stick to the old way, the one that works, It is simpler, shorter and easy to understand. To me the newer new math looks like it would be confusing to an elementary student.

Nick Rangel, one of the students quoted, said he likes the old way for the reason that this new one takes longer. He added, however, that he feels math is "funner" this year with all the games they play. It looks to me as if this program is one of those concerned that students should have more fun. The concerns of educators and parents should be that schools should be using the best program for their children so that they can better prepare them for the job market where they have to compete not only here, but also abroad.

Educators abroad don't worry about any experimental math. They use the old way. Students learn the already proven theories and use them to learn and invent newer ones that are useful in the scientific community.

The result of this newer new math is taking a toll on freshman students in college. At Southeast Missouri State University, there is a great percentage of students taking at least one level of remedial math classes. These students should have learned their basics back in high school.

Teachers and administrators should balance the curriculum to use only the new concepts and methods that have been proven to work and make use of the old method that has been proven to have worked.

As Lichtenegger says, "The old way is still effective"

Raj Marasini of Cape Girardeau is a Southeast Missouri State University graduate.

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