Letters to editor/South
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A case for traditional math
Mt. Lebanon parents who have been raising issues about the elementary math program this year have concerns regarding content in the program, namely the late and sparse treatment of traditional algorithms in addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and of traditional methods of computation with rational numbers (fractions).
The concerns are not about the methodology of teaching math in those classrooms, which is currently using a guided inquiry type approach framed by the sole use of TERC Investigations. This program incorporates positive improvements to the math classroom: problem solving, context and multiple strategies to analyze and discuss problems. However, traditional algorithms are not among those many strategies until fourth and fifth grades, and the students are therefore using less efficient algorithms (processes) to complete those problems for many years before advancement in the concepts can be achieved.
All of the positive aspects of the TERC Investigations program (conceptual foundations, group discussions, problem-solving strategies, mathematical thinking, mathematical literacy and positive disposition) can be incorporated into the teaching of traditional algorithms and fraction computations that include finding common denominators. Significant mathematics exist in the traditional algorithms and fractions, and these standard strategies can be used to extend the conceptual understandings of our students -- even in second and third grades. The avoidance of these traditional procedures until fourth and fifth grades serves no purpose in securing a conceptual understanding of mathematics, but does ensure that these traditional procedures are not the primary or fluent method of computation in problem solving for our students.
Regardless of future career choices as adults, the significant learning and education gained through both creative and enjoyable problem-solving tasks are no more important than the significant skills and training gained through mastering efficient procedural tasks.
Our students deserve a complete education in math, and with the positive elements of the TERC program, they can certainly rise to the challenge of mastering the traditional basics with a true understanding of the concepts behind them.
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First Published January 31, 2013 5:58 am