Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Math is fun in fourth grade!

As I confessed yesterday, I was worried about my ability to teach math to my kids when we first decided to unschool, because I always thought I was "bad" at math. Now that my children are 15, 18, and 20 and mathematically literate, I can say that my worries were unfounded. Now I find it somewhat funny and sad that a lot of people think that unschooling is great, but they still need a math curriculum or a math textbook.

A textbook or computer program makes sense for algebra, trig, or calculus. I can sort of buy it in junior high -- like a security blanket, okay. I'm not going to give anyone a hard time about having a security blanket. But I think the best way to use a math text in junior high is for mom or dad to read it, and if you find something where you feel your child is really deficient, go ahead and do that section of the book if it will help you sleep at night or stand up to the inlaws. But remember that the best way to kill a love of learning a subject is to make someone do drills over and over and over again, even though they know how to do it.

What really surprises me about math texts is when someone says they bought one for a child in the elementary grades. There is nothing taught in elementary math that cannot be learned through life. At best, a math book is waste of money. At worst, it's a surefire way to kill a child's desire to learn math. Oh, they will still learn it, but they are more likely to see it as "hard," instead of a part of daily living.

I just happen to have a fourth-grade math curriculum here. I bought it because my son requested it eight years ago.

The first eight weeks -- yes, eight weeks -- all start with the word, "review." So, there is nothing new for eight weeks. We will be reviewing everything we've already learned: addition, subtraction, skip counting, multiplication, division, telling time, and roman numerals. My favorite here is telling time. Even if we assume that no one uses addition, subtraction, etc, in their daily lives, do we really need to spend two weeks reviewing how to tell time? But let's move on ... although weeks nine and ten don't begin with the word, "review," they are still covering multiplication and roman numerals. The 11th and 12th weeks are a review of weeks one to 10!

I won't bore you with a week-by-week list of the curriculum, because it's ... well, it's boring. The big thing to learn in fourth grade, which finally starts around the 13th week, is measurements and money, including fractions.

So, to learn everything the average fourth graders knows about math, take your kids into the kitchen at least a couple times a week. Make a batch of chocolate chip cookies or brownies. After a couple weeks when they understand how the measurements work, ask them to double the recipe (adding fractions) and triple the recipe (multiplying fractions). Then get online and find a huge recipe and ask them to halve it or reduce it by 2/3 (dividing fractions). You could just cheat and multiply a recipe by three, then ask them to reduce it by 2/3.

Three years ago, my then-12-year-old daughter and I spent the month of November making about seven or eight different cookie recipes. We doubled or tripled most of the recipes, freezing the majority of the cookies. Then in December, when we had company for the holidays, we were able to pull out six or seven different types of cookies each time we had company.

Here is a fun challenge that is totally practical -- try making a batch of cookies using only the 1/4-cup measuring cup. We've done this before when all the other measuring cups were dirty or when we couldn't find the one we needed. It shows your child ...
4 X 1/4 = 1
2 X 1/4 = 1/2
and so on.

You also get into telling time. If you put your cookies in the oven at 10:05, and they are supposed to bake for 8 minutes, what time do you need to check on them?

Of course, you don't have to wait until your child is 9-years-old to do this. You can do it with your six-year-old, and then when the inlaws ask how little Johnny is doing, you can say, "Oh, he's working at the fourth grade level in math."

If you think your kids hate math, try this. Instead of saying, "Kids, time to do your math work!" say, "Kids, let's bake some cookies!" Not only do you wind up with children who know their fractions, you'll also wind up with a steady supply of homemade cookies.

Tomorrow: money, the second half of fourth grade math

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the concept of reviewing doesn't stop in grade school. I have taught college level math courses that spend the first 1/4 of the class reviewing what was done in the prerequisite class. I guess that's better than reviewing for 3/4 of the time.