# Do new math techniques actually make math harder?

We all know I am simply awful at math. However, I think they are teaching it differently now and it is actually making it harder to understand.

For example, I had never in my life heard or seen “lattice multiplication” until my daughter started doing it last year at school. They are doing it again this year. It takes up a heck of a lot of space and Rose now seems to have a hard time working a regular multiplication problem where the numbers are just placed on top of each other.  (I’m talking about double and triple digit multiplication.)

Simple rounding has also had a makeover – apparently if it’s on 5 you don’t necessarily round up any more. They now do something slightly different called front-end estimation. I have no idea what this is but it doesn’t follow the same rules as rounding.  (I found this math forum where another mom was frustrated by the new rules of front-end estimation. ) I’m just grateful they are out of that chapter because I am tired of fighting with Rose about the rules. (I need to go and sit in class so I can help with the homework.)

The other concept they are applying differently than when I was in school is the distributive property. We used to talk about in algebra with parenthesis.  However now they are using it for estimation purposes. So if you had a problem 500 x 36. You would the five times 36 and then add the zeros on.  (This I understand but we just never figured math problems this way.)

My girlfriend who is homeschooling this year is noticing similar trends. She is actually having to teach the lattice multiplication, which she was never taught in school either. They are also doing front-end estimation and she’s equally frustrated.

So moms and teachers have you been noticing the new math? Do you think the concepts make it easier or harder to actually do the problems? Can one of our teacher friends explain what’s up with the new methods?

mom of 3

September 28th, 2010
4:48 pm

My husbands a ga tech grad so he does all the math stuff. I do women’s math I tell him how much I saved instead of how much I spend.

atlmom

September 28th, 2010
4:48 pm

@miles: this is horrible thinking. Crazy. I look at a lot of the stats software now, and it’s so fascinating to me. Managers think: oh, anyone can do it – it’s so ‘easy’. Sure, most people might be able to program the information in and get something out. But they don’t then understand the answer. the field of analysis/analytics is very large these days (used to be we couldn’t get data, now we are swimming in it) – and people are ill equipped to understand what the heck they are doing. it’s interesting to me, but seriously, not so many people understand a lot of what they see wrt numbers. they take things at face value without asking the right questions re: data/polls/etc.

Hungry Gringo

September 28th, 2010
4:56 pm

According to Wikipedia, lattice multiplication dates back to the ancient Muslim mathematicians who Western scholars based their discoveries on when the European Dark Ages ended centuries later. Apparently, Leonardo da Vinci liked this method for multiplication because he could do it with both hands at once (he was ambidextrous).

More relevant to the 21st Century however, this method is based off the same basic linear algebra principles as computer programming. Considering how important computers are to our society, this method looks to me like a clear winner over long multiplication.

DB

September 28th, 2010
5:31 pm

It makes me crazy when people say, “Oh, we don’t need to know how to do higher math, we have calculators for that,” as if the only use for math is as an applied science.

The process of learning math teaches you how to think logically, clearly and how to break a problem down step by step. It gets those little neurons firing in ways they aren’t used to — brain power!

I’m so against calculators for kids in middle school and under. I never let my kids use a calculator at home during their math homework. I don’t care how much “faster” it is. You don’t really learn it if you are just plugging numbers into a box. That’s learning how to calculate — and any stupid computer can do that. LEARNING how to think about the problem is using your brain.

irisheyes

September 28th, 2010
7:49 pm

The math your daughter’s doing isn’t the “new math” that we all shudder at, it’s just Everyday Math that was developed by the University of Chicago Math Project. It’s been around for years. I taught it when I was at my previous school. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I will say that my students LOVED lattice multiplication. Everyday Math does teach a couple of other ways to multiply numbers (including the old-fashioned way we all love). It does the same thing when teaching addition, subtraction, and division. The idea is that the students can choose what method works best with their learning style. Do I completely buy in? Maybe. I think Everyday Math needs more computation practice for the kids, but it uses lots of hands-on activities, and games (which are great at teaching kids problem solving skills), and my kids became pretty good at math. Much better than they had been when I was teaching just the traditional way.

Scott

September 29th, 2010
2:05 am

Three or four years ago I did briefly look at lattice multiplication, and I believe one of the simplifying features of lattice mult. is that it separtes the multiplication and adding/carry into two steps. If I remember correctly when you multiply two digits you write the complete answer, and thus don’t need to sorry about any carry. Then at the end you add the intermediate results. Place values are evident, along diagonal lines, and you are not limited by the size of the numbers.

That said, I think it’s best to learn the “normal way” and that may be a starting point to learn quicker techniques that take less space to compute or even learn to do mental calculations.

I suggest beginning in third grade that students are taught math by a math major. Math is fun if taught by a knowledgeable instructor. Learning the multiplication table is the gateway to success in math.

October 1st, 2010
12:05 pm

Well, I have to admit that I never “understood” math until I took Mickey Mouse Math in college (math for education majors). I memorized the rules, applied them, and got the correct answers. Unless you are going to be a math major, learning how to do the problems and practical times to use them should be enough.

I hate the gimmicks kids are being taught now. Too many tricks, too much exploration, and NO MASTERY.

My younger daughter has a BS in math and astrophysics and an MS in astrophysics. I think (and she agrees) that if she had come up through school with this investigative, Math 1, 2, 3 mess she NEVER would have succeeded in math. She needed to memorize, learn the rules, and find ways to apply them, allowing for MASTERY before moving on to the next. Now she can do the weird math that does not even exist except in theory and use it to solve literally out of this world problems. Wouldn’t have happened if she had been born ten years later and been sujected to the new math.

momof2

October 2nd, 2010
12:07 pm

As far as using a calculator, they should not be allowed. But some even if they use a calculator, they still get the answer wrong because they plugged it into the calculator wrong and they try to say “but that is what the calculator gave me”! So if they can’t do it by hand,then they should not use a calculator at all!

momof2

October 2nd, 2010
12:09 pm

Kids should learn more than one way to solve the math problems. In some cases it may be easier to use one method versus another method… The teacher may want them to solve it using a specific method, just learn it. Practice practice practice…