There is No “New Math”

I’ll go ahead and estimate that on average my blood pressure rises about 10 times a week discussing the topic of “new math” with someone.  Be it on social media, in line at the grocery store, or even on a date my days are riddled debating the merit of Common Core and “new math” in education.  I thought’d I’d just write about it here, print out 42 million cards with the web link on it, and then hand out as needed to save time in the future.

Not long ago, I had a spirited discussion about the merits of this “new math” we are teaching.  His thought was valid in his mind that if he could perform skills using a standard algorithm then why was it necessary to understand and explain the process behind it.  I asked him to subtract 59 from 87 to which he stacked the numbers on top of each other, borrowed, and regrouped to find the correct answer.  I asked him curiously what borrowing from the 8 to make it a 7 and then changing the 7 to a 17 really meant to which he contested it didn’t matter as long as the answer was correct.

Here’s how I explained it to him… imagine that I know every historical date associated with World War II.  I know the dates of every battle and every minute detail of the War but I have no understanding of why the war happened, who was involved and why, or what the short and long term repercussions of the war were.  Does memorizing the dates have any meaning without understanding the why?

That is exactly how many of us (myself included) learned math.  We memorized facts, procedures and algorithms and “did” math with no meaning.  As a result I meet people almost daily who say, oh I am terrible at math, I hate math, or I was never a math person.  The math being taught today isn’t “new math” at all.  It is instead a focus on teaching meaning before teaching skills and algorithms.  I promise you your child will be shown the standard algorithm for subtraction just like you learned it, the difference is your child is being taught the meaning of that algorithm before memorizing steps of borrowing and regrouping.

My son is in 3rd grade now and can subtract with ease in spite of not being taught the standard algorithm.  How?  Well instead of doing 87 minus 59 the traditional way he counts up from 59.  He says to himself, I need 1 to get to 60, then 20 to get to 80, and then 7 more to get to 87 so the answer is 28.  I can’t argue with his theory and justification there.  He will be taught the standard algorithm soon enough and I am sure he will see the merit there as well but the beauty is then he can decide which way he prefers to do the problem rather than the way we were taught which was the standard algorithm or nothing.

He also knows his multiplication facts up to 12.  No one has taught him multiplication, we don’t do drills, and he’s never seen a flash card.  However he does know that if one dozen is 12 then to get two dozen you add another 12, and three dozen another, and four another.  It thrills me to know end to think how much more easily those 12 times tables will come to him than me.  He developed the number sense associated with multiplication before memorizing the routine facts and in my mind that’s way more important then memorizing numbers on a flash card.  (On a side note my 12 multiplication tables nearly killed me in school)

My point here is isn’t to say that anyone was taught wrong the “old way”.  My point is that there is no “new math”.  Your child will see that standard algorithm that you are dying to teach them, that way isn’t “old” and the teacher’s way isn’t “new”.  Instead the processes you are seeing are all apart of teaching your child not to be afraid of math and instead to be a problem solver and use math as a spectrum to view the world.  I challenge you to embrace their way of thinking and maybe even flip your own perspective on “doing math”.




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