New math is just one of the new things our children are learning. They are learning things that we could have never imagined.

The landscape of the world is different; countries have new names and forms of government. There continues to be new discoveries to the solar system. Typewriters have gone the way of the black and white televisions and the new math or fuzzy math is really new.

new mathPrevious generations of students learned basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division. There were no calculators and children were expected to recite their “times tables” out loud.

Long division homework could take pages and pages of a loose leaf paper, and wear down a full eraser in the process because you had to show your work.

Now, even first graders learn new math with base ten, rounding, forgiving methods and other concepts that are foreign to most parents. Children are encouraged to use their fingers, manipulatives (pennies, Cheerios or M&M’s) and visual charts.

The “Forgiving Method” and “Mental Math” are two popular buzz words of the new math.

First and foremost, if your child is one of the millions participating in the “Math Trailblazers,” approach, purchase a calculator, ruler and/or tape measurer and teach him how to use it. According to program descriptions “the fundamental principle of Math Trailblazers is that mathematics is best learned through active solving of real problems.

Lessons are grounded in everyday situations, so abstractions build on experience. Students’ skills, procedures, and concepts emerge and develop as they solve complex problems. The curriculum introduces challenging content at every grade level.”

Unlike the standard math sheets of years gone by word problems are an integral part of the new math program from grade one. Unlike the previous generation of educators, the supporters of this new math program believe a calculator is no different than the pencil.

Bar charts, liner graphs, skinnies, bits and flats and rounding-off numbers are other concepts that are repeated from grade to grade. Children are allowed to interpret the question and arrive at the answer, in an individualized approach.

So how do you help your child with his or her homework, when you don’t understand the assignment? More importantly, how do you teach your child the more traditional approaches to math, without confusing them?

Regardless of your child’s grade level, here are four tips to survive new math: 

  • Look for tools. If you haven’t received it by now, request a copy of “The Parent’s Guide to Math” packet which most elementary schools prepare for each grade and distribute at the beginning of the year. In the packet should be a definitions of terms used in the course, explanations of basic concepts and a list of resources that may provide assistance. Many districts have Homework Helper Hotlines, and most publishers of the new math courses offer website guides for parents.  
  • Be opened minded. The theory behind these new math programs is that there is more than one way to approach a math problem. For those who have difficulty in learning multiplication, it is easier to arrive at the answer with visuals that show multiple steps of addition. For example 5 x 3 can be explained 5+5+5 and should also be recognized as 3+3+3+3+3. If a child can’t skip count yet, have him draw circles with the number of objects inside each. Keep a jar of at least 100 pennies available and make copies of the 100’s Chart that is distributed to each child. For differently abled children, such as those with dyscalculia and low working memory, this flexibility may help him or her master the concepts.
  • Be prepared. This approach to division will be the most troubling and confusing. Your child will be encouraged to use rounding concepts and short-hand approaches. This is where the new math “Forgiving Method” comes in and most parents don’t like it. In this approach, which actually takes longer, your child is instructed to estimate each place value and write the answer to the right of the problem. It does not require that the greatest quotient (answer for division problem) be found for each step. This eliminates the frustration of having to start over and frequently erasing the first guess. Instead your child is taught to complete each step (even if the answer is “wrong” because the remainder that is carried down is higher than a traditional math answer) and add up the sums of each place value guess. At the end he or she circles it and transfers the number to the original math problem. If there is a remainder, that should be written next to the answer.
  • Admit that this is confusing. However, don’t demonstrate the frustration to your child. He or she participating in an integrated approach that will combine reading comprehension, science and advanced math skills such as algebra, geometry and fractions. Educators believe that when mastered earlier, your child will have a practical understanding of each, when he or she begins secondary school.  If you feel overwhelmed, contact the teacher and ask for suggestions on how to assist with the assignments.

Most parents agree that calculators should not replace pencil and paper or flash cards as a means to learn math. By third grade, your child should be able to recite the times tables.

Use flash cards to ensure he or she can recognize the problems in a traditional setting. However, one thing is certain. Your child will need to learn the more traditional approaches to long-division along side the new approach.

If your school does not do it, you must! In a practical world, our children still need to be able to do basic math and master addition, subtraction, multiplications and division, since many employers require a timed on-line proficiency test as part of the application screening.  

Only, time will tell if the new math will produce a generation of less math-phobic adults, but in the mean time take the time to learn this approach; knowledge is good at every age.

Jen Thames

Article Contributed by: Jen Thames, Brand Manager for the best source for residence hall linens and twinXL bedding on the web.  

Jen is a regular contributing author and provides many tips related to education like this one on new math.