Thursday, 16 December 2010

"Can you add on ten?"

I ask. I am standing in the supermarket aisle. There is a frustrated father (always a bad thing in a supermarket) and a boy of about ten. His father is trying to teach him basic household economics. The boy needs to add 15 and 8 together. There is a problem. He cannot do it. He is not at school. This is the supermarket. He is surrounded by distraction and, worse still, there is NO CALCULATOR. You do not do sums "like that in your head". You do them on a calculator.
His father had just given me a look of utter despair.
The teacher in me took over and I said, "There is a trick to doing it - makes it easy-peasy. Want to know?"
The kid looks at me and nods warily.
"Can you add on ten."
Yes. He can do that.
"Can you take off two?"
Yes. He can do that.
"And ten take away two is...?"
Yeah. Right. Eight. We go through it all again. If you need to add on eight and you are not sure how to do it then add on ten and take away two.
It would be easier to learn to add on eight. It would be faster. The problem is that he has never been taught to do it, not really taught. He does not know his number facts. He is not alone. When his father was at school there was still some emphasis on these things. Now there is very little emphasis at the local schools. Even seven year old children have calculators in the classroom.
When the Whirlwind was in the junior most sections of school I would grill her on number facts at unexpected moments. It used to infuriate her. I also taught her all the tricks I could think of. Those were more fun. Now she is glad I have done it. Mathematics is not her favourite subject by any means but she at least does well at it.
There must be many other children, like the ten year old, who struggle through each lesson simply because they do not know their number facts and cannot use them with confidence.
I think I would ban calculators until secondary school - and then limit their use.


Anonymous said...

I would ban calculators until they are not needed by the student .... so they can still do the maths when the battery is flat.

Judy B

catdownunder said...

But realistically Judy...? :-)

Frances said...

Cat: is that widespread in S.A.? here in NSW, calculators are generally not used until year 8, (although some schools do use them earlier, "to check results", they say).
My impression is that, in spite of varying teaching methods, some children just labour with maths. Adding horizontally seems now to be the rule. E.g., 24+26, one adds 20+ 20, +4 to the result, + 6 to that result.
As a consequence, when later faced with that as an old fashioned vertical sum, they add the 2s first - as they have learned, then add 6+4 = 10. So, their answer is 410. Aaaargh.
I couldn't agree with you more about learning their "combinations". And their tables, come to that.

Anonymous said...

I have been in at least seventeen South Australian primary schools this year - as a relief teacher. In all of them calculators were in use. The argument seems to be that "the children use them to check their work". Clearly some of the children were using them to do their work. Overall it would be fair to say that children do not know their number facts as well as I would like but their teachers seem satisfied - and happy with the use of calculators. Diana L.

Rachel Fenton said...

Basic facts are big here in NZ - I still can't do maths though!For me it's not about the sum, it's about the pressure applied at the time to work it out. But then I can't count to read knitting patterns and there's no pressure....think that's more the daughter freezes if she's asked a sum on the spot..I think teachers should be ridiculed in front of the class for putting children on the spot.

Sheeprustler said...

My kids never had calculators until secondary school in Victoria. But I do agree that some of the maths learning methods that are used are not what I would consider to be 'right. However I do know that times tables were studied rigorously, as was mental arithmetic, right through primary school.

catdownunder said...

The theory is that it IS still studied here but the calculators seem to creep in. I rather suspect it depends on individual teachers and involving parents as well.